MARKHAM, Ont. — A heated battle for the reins of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives that exposed deep rifts within the party continued to smolder even after Doug Ford was crowned the new leader on Saturday.
Party president Jag Badwal announced the results seven hours later than scheduled, saying the former Toronto city councillor had narrowly eked out a win over former provincial legislator Christine Elliott on the third ballot.
But Elliott, who had made her third bid to lead the party, released a statement early Sunday morning alleging there had been "serious irregularities" in the vote and vowing to investigate further.
Her comments came after the party said it had reviewed certain aspects of the vote and cleared all issues before announcing Ford's victory.
Ford made little mention of the review or the delays in his victory speech, focusing instead on the June election in which he will now face Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.
"The people of Ontario want the Ontario Liberals gone and they deserve nothing less," Ford, who was flanked by Granic Allen, told the sparse but enthusiastic crowd in Markham, Ont., that remained to hear the results.
"We're going to spend the coming weeks getting the party in fighting shape, because the people of this province are ready for change."
Ford said he hadn't spoken to Elliott, and vowed to hold a news conference "in the coming days" but gave no specifics.
Elliott said she had won the popular vote and the majority of ridings, and noted that very few electoral points separated her and Ford in the final count. She also said thousands of party members were assigned to incorrect ridings during the voting process.
"I will stand up for these members and plan to investigate the extent of this discrepancy," she said.
Toronto lawyer Caroline Mulroney placed third in the race, while social conservative advocate Tanya Granic Allen finished last.
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The governing Liberals were quick to denounce Ford, who is known for being the brother of late scandal-plagued mayor Rob Ford.
"The Conservative party is going into this election with more radically conservative policies than Mike Harris, Tim Hudak or Stephen Harper ever ran on," Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said.
"The billions in cuts they are promising and the divisive social conservative policies they are championing will hurt Ontario's economy and change our province for the worse."
Doug Ford's victory was announced after 10 p.m., without any of the pomp and fanfare that was expected earlier in the day when hundreds packed a hall expecting to celebrate the start of a new and more positive chapter in party history.
Instead, after a 4.5-hour delay, the chair of the party's leadership election organizing committee dismissed the irate crowd Saturday evening with a terse statement about the need for a review of the results and announced the issue would be resolved in the "short term."
"There's a review underway of an allocation of a certain list of electors that needs to be resolved because it may have an impact on electoral votes," Hartley Lefton said, his words increasingly drowned out by jeers and boos.
Lefton dismissed assembled party members from the hall they'd occupied since late Saturday morning, saying the organization no longer had access to the premises.
William Coleman, a staunch Ford supporter, said he was angry at the party's handling of what should have been a turning point and worried the delays and confusion over who won could affect the party's image at a time when it is striving to appear united and authoritative.
"If we're going to win the general election ... stuff like this only makes things worse," he said.
Others appeared undisturbed, saying the hurdles would be long forgotten once a leader was chosen.
"Whatever it takes, as long as we get it right and then we're behind whoever the candidate is," said Jeffrey Thomson, a longtime party member.
More than 64,000 votes were cast in the hastily organized leadership race.
Cristine de Clercy, an associate professor of political science at Western University, said the party's handling of the delays Saturday was "a dismal failure."
"This was pretty much the most mishandled party executive communication exercise I've ever witnessed on television," she said.
"This party is very clearly very fractured ... That made it even more important that this executive running this election had to be perfect ... Unfortunately the thing blew apart today."
The contest was launched in late January after former leader Patrick Brown resigned abruptly amid allegations of sexual misconduct that he has consistently denied.
Brown tweeted his congratulations to Ford on his victory.
"We are all behind our new leader and focused on our common goal of defeating the disastrous Wynne Liberal government," he said.
Mulroney, the only candidate to be nominated in a riding, also tweeted her support for Ford and said she would be back knocking on doors Sunday.
"Today, we leave this convention united with one common goal, finally firing Kathleen Wynne," she said.
Saturday's delay in announcing a winner was the latest in a long list of challenges that have plagued the party since Brown's departure.
The party uncovered issues with its structure, problems with its nomination processes, and discrepancies in its membership numbers, leading interim leader Vic Fedeli to declare he would "root out the rot" before handing over the reins to a new leader.
Fedeli calls for unity in the party
The leadership race itself stirred strife and forced party brass to defend their decisions on a number of fronts.
Chief among these were a number of complaints about the complex rules for the online vote, including repeated claims that the necessary voting documents sent via regular mail were not reaching party members on time.
A lawyer even filed a request for a court injunction the day before the leadership convention seeking to delay the decision by a week to give more members a chance to receive their documents and cast a ballot, but a judge dismissed the request.
At Saturday's thwarted convention, Fedeli called upon the party to rise above the recent differences and pull together to defeat the Liberals in a scheduled June election.
"Our work does not end today because whatever differences (we have) as Progressive Conservatives, our differences are small compared to everything that unites us," Fedeli told the crowd before the announcement was due to be made. "The real campaign, the real test, still lies ahead of us."
With files from Michelle McQuigge in Toronto.