TORONTO — The tumultuous Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race will end as planned Saturday after the party scored an important court victory, convincing a judge to reject an injunction that would have extended the contest by a week.
The latest battle in the chaotic campaign took place in a Toronto courtroom Friday with Ontario Superior Court Justice Todd Archibald ruling in favour of the PC Party and rejecting the application of a disenfranchised party member.
60,000 already voted
Archibald said extending the race — which cost the party $1.5 million to run — would adversely impact the 60,000 people who have already voted in the race.
"This case turns on the balance of convenience," Archibald wrote in his six-page decision. "The clear balance is in favour of the (PC Party)."
"One more week without a leader impacts every member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario," he wrote.
Archibald said the fact alone that the disenfranchised members did not attempt to resolve the issue first within party was grounds for dismissal of the claim.
One more week without a leader impacts every member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.Court Justice Todd Archibald
"Asking our courts ... to intervene in the process every time there is a grievance risks opening the door to an innumerable number of court challenges," he wrote.
A lawyer representing a disenfranchised party member had brought an application for an injunction to prolong the race less than a day before voting was set to end.
Jeffrey Radnoff said his client and others had not received a personal identification number, which party members need for verification purposes before they could vote.
"He's disappointed that he can't vote," Radnoff said. "But he feels he had his day in court."
Radnoff argued that the extension was actually in the best interest of the Tories because disenfranchising "thousands" of voters could lead to questions about the legitimacy of the leader elected through the process, and subsequent legal challenges.
Watch highlights of the leadership candidates debate last month:
The disenfranchisement of some members within the party is still a significant issue the Tories must address, he said after the decision was announced.
"We had to raise this issue," he said. "The judge said it was a very important issue. He really thought it should have been raised sooner."
Four candidates — former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, lawyer Caroline Mulroney, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, and parental rights advocate Tanya Granic Allen — are vying to seize the helm of Ontario's Tories following the departure of ousted former leader Patrick Brown.
Gina Brannan, representing the Progressive Conservative Party, told the judge the sudden January resignation of former PC leader Patrick Brown, which came months before a spring election, had created an unprecedented situation that made the contracted leadership race necessary.
Brannan said the longer the party waits to select a new leader, the greater the danger it suffers "irreparable harm," scuttling chances for the Tories to win the June 7 election. She acknowledged that the online system wasn't perfect but added that no system to select a leader ever is.
"At some point you have to draw a line in sand," she said. "This can't be the never-ending story ... or we'll never pick a leader."
The party decided against prolonging the race late Wednesday, saying that doing so would contravene its constitution. It also noted that it had previously extended registration and voting deadlines.
This can't be the neverending story ... or we'll never pick a leader.Gina Brannan
The chair of the party's leadership election organizing committee, Hartley Lefton, issued a statement saying he was "pleased" by the verdict and that it affirmed what they believed to be true about the race.
"Our committee was mandated to develop and deliver a fair election to elect the next Leader of the Ontario PC Party, and this ruling confirms we have been consistent with this mandate," he said.
Lefton added that the party will review the race with an eye to correcting mistakes made and improving future races.
"We will review this process in its entirety once it is complete, in light of the challenges, and offer solutions to avoid them in the future," he added.
Earlier in the day, Lefton testified in court in defence of the Tories' voting process.
We were encouraged to see the decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice today which validates our election process.Christine Elliott
As of 8 a.m. Friday, he said, 71,402 party members had been verified and the party confirmed that 64,053 members had voted when balloting closed at noon Friday.
"These numbers represent an all-time high for the PC party. It's not even close," Lefton said in court.
Lefton also said $1.5 million had already been spent on the leadership race — $250,000 specifically on the leadership results announcement set for Saturday — and noted that the party would incur additional costs if the voting period was extended.
Leadership candidate Christine Elliott, who was the only candidate not to call for an extension in voting, said while the process hasn't been perfect she welcomed the judge's ruling.
"We were encouraged to see the decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice today which validates our election process," she said. "We know Ontarians are counting on us to come together so we can all finally turn the page on Kathleen Wynne."