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Ontario PC Leader Race Undecided Amid Reported Vote Recount

Jen Skerritt, Greg Quinn
Ford Motor Co Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

A closely watched election to lead Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party -- one which could thrust the brother of the infamous late Toronto mayor Rob Ford into the national spotlight -- hangs in the balance amid a vote recount.

Late Saturday there was no official winner declared between the leading candidates, Doug Ford and attorney Christine Elliott. Lawyers are allegedly demanding a recount of some of the votes cast, according to the Toronto Star.

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A review of a certain allocation of votes is under way and “we expect this review to be resolved in the short term, and by that I mean as soon as practically possible,” Hartley Lefton, a PC party official, said in televised remarks.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Post earlier reported that Ford narrowly edged out rivals and will take the helm, three months before a general election in Canada’s most populous province.

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Ford is a former Toronto city councilor who made a late run for mayor in 2014 after his younger brother was diagnosed with cancer. He came in second behind former provincial legislator John Tory. Ford declined to run in the last PC leadership race in 2015, and at the time backed Elliott.

Ford, like his brother, touted his connections to ordinary voters dubbed “Ford Nation” who want small government and a tough style of speaking.

Remembering Rob

Rob Ford had a troubled tenure after becoming Toronto’s mayor on a promise to halt a “gravy train” of spending that appealed to voters in the suburbs of Canada’s biggest city. He admitted to the use of crack cocaine and became the butt of jokes on talk shows within and outside of Canada. He died in 2016 at age 46 after being diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare type of cancer.

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Elliott represented the Whitby-Oshawa district east of Toronto in the Ontario legislature for nine years starting in 2006 and was named as an advocate for the province’s patients in 2016. She was married to Jim Flaherty, the former federal finance minister, before he died in April 2014.

The PC leadership contest was triggered by the resignation of Patrick Brown in late January after a CTV television report featuring interviews from women who said he made unwanted sexual advances -- allegations he’s denied. Similar claims also led to the exit of the party’s president. Years of preparations to unseat the Liberals led by Premier Kathleen Wynne must now be refashioned in a matter of weeks ahead of the election on June 7. The party has already lost several elections in a row to the Liberals.

Largest Economy

The Wynne government’s popularity had trailed PC’s before the troubles with Brown, with some voters upset over jumps in their electricity bills and a long struggle to balance the province’s budget.

The winner of the PC leadership contest will challenge Wynne to run Canada’s largest provincial economy, equal to almost 40 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and home to Canada’s banking and corporate hub. The province is also Canada’s major manufacturing region and boasts major auto assembly plants.

Ontario’s broader manufacturing base has struggled with tougher foreign competition and is at risk from U.S. trade protectionism, including tensions over steel, and the risk that President Donald Trump will quit the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said last week that the prospect of shifting voter alliances because of elections in Ontario, Quebec and Mexico, as well as U.S. Congressional mid-terms, was one reason he wants the pace of talks to speed up.

Unworkable Proposals

Canada’s negotiators have resisted what they call unworkable proposals such as a greater quota for American auto production within Nafta and the right to review and quit the pact every five years. Some 75 percent of Canada’s exports are sent to the U.S., and uncertainty over trade has slowed investment in the nation.

Ontario will return to a budget deficit after balancing its books in 2017-18, the only year in the past decade, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said on March 7. The province plans to run a deficit of less than 1 percent of gross domestic product in 2018-19 and will have “a clear plan to track back to balance,” he said.

The move was a break from last year’s budget when the forecast was to balance the budget in 2017-18 for the first time since 2008 and keep doing so through 2020.

Updates with party official comment in third paragraph.

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Read Ontario PC Leader Race Undecided Amid Reported Vote Recount on bloombergpolitics.com