03/05/2015 10:21 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT

Ontario PC Leadership Candidate Christine Elliott Boasts 34,000 New Party Signups

TORONTO - The numbers are in for all of the Progressive Conservative leadership candidates, but they don't add up.

The party reports that since the start of the race to replace Tim Hudak party membership has ballooned from about 10,000 to about 80,000.

But the total number of memberships the three leadership candidates claim they sold before the cut-off date last weekend — about 94,000 — suggests one or all of the campaigns' figures are off.

MP Patrick Brown says he sold about 40,000, while MPP Christine Elliott says she signed up 34,000 new members, and MPP Monte McNaughton is boasting 20,000 new memberships, though a party source has put his figure closer to 6,000.

Every PC member can vote for the new leader on May 3 and 7, with the winner to be revealed on May 9, but the votes will be weighted so each of the 107 ridings gets 100 points, which means where the memberships were sold is almost as important as how many.

Rob Leone, an assistant political science professor at Western University and a former Tory MPP, says in almost every race he's been involved with campaigns exaggerate their numbers to boast who has the most momentum, aimed at party voters who just want to support the frontrunner.

"There's a bit of a bandwagon effect that's in play, and to make the impression that your campaign is winning is going to be part of the pitch they're going to make to this group of people," he said.

Part of the discrepancy is likely attributed to the number of people who sign up through the party website, unaffiliated with any campaign, Leone said. The party wouldn't say how many of the 70,000 new members fit into that category, but Leone said each campaign is going to try to claim those members as their own.

Elliott has been seen as the frontrunner, so the other two campaigns want to make it appear as though that's not the case, Leone said.

McMaster University political science professor Henry Jacek said he expects a lot of the existing 10,000 members would be supporting Elliott.

Elliott, considered the centrist candidate, has the support of the majority of the caucus, as well as Tory heavyweights former premier Bill Davis and former foreign affairs minister John Baird.

Elliott is way out in front in the fundraising department, reporting $620,000 in donations so far, compared with $199,000 for Brown, the only candidate without a seat in the Ontario legislature, and $78,000 for McNaughton.

In a statement Elliott said the memberships she sold are distributed evenly across the province.

Earlier Thursday, Elliott released her economic plan, saying she would cut the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent over three years.

She also said she would provide incentives to students and employers to get more young people into skilled trades, to create a fund to support development of manufacturing technology and divest assets that don't serve core functions of government.

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