Non-PC voters could (potentially) choose party’s next leader

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Photo courtesy Chris Young, Justin Tang/Canadian Press

On June 7, Ontarians go to the polls to decide who will be premier of Canada’s largest province. But before they choose its first minister, voters will be engulfed in a different contest altogether: the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party leadership race.

There’s the potential that – if they care enough – students could have a strong hand in selecting the possible premier-in-waiting, or at the very least, the next leader of the Ontario PC Party.

Three candidates have thrown their names into the ring to be leader of the centre-right provincial party: Doug Ford, Caroline Mulroney, and Christine Elliott. Per PC rules, only registered members of the party can vote for the new leader. As it stands, there are over 130,000 members. That number could seriously change as the three contenders rack up memberships in hopes of securing a win come the Mar. 10 convention.

To succeed, candidates have to sign up as many members as possible before Feb. 16. The candidates could bank on a variety of demographics to feed their membership lists: so why can’t students be among those voters?

“Youth voters could certainly be impactful if leadership candidates signed up hundreds of new youth members, or were able to persuade existing youth members to vote for them,” Dr. Anna L. Esselment, associate professor & chair of UW’s Department of Political Science, said.

To sign up with the PC Party, voters simply have to be 14 years of age and a Canadian resident with $10 to spend. They don’t have to commit to voting to the party in a general election.

“In Alberta, for example, when the PC party was the dominant party for decades, many Albertans, regardless of their own partisanship, signed up during a leadership race since the winner would very likely become the next premier of the province,” Esselment added.

The PCs have led decisively in nearly every poll conducted in the last year. That, combined with an incumbent Liberal government that has been in power for 15 years (boasting the least popular premier in the country), there’s a strong possibility the Tories will take over Queen’s Park come June 7.

Even if a voter doesn’t care about conventional wisdom, they may just be intrigued by the party platform. The PCs have decidedly pivoted to the centre of the political spectrum, embracing a carbon tax, in addition to committing additional funding to social services. Why not take a gamble?

“The bigger challenge with young voters,” Esselment continued, “more than a potential swing from the left to the right – is getting them to turn out to vote in the first place. The number of young voters (18-24) spiked in the 2015 federal election, but I’m not convinced we’ll see the same level of turnout in the upcoming provincial election.”

Students, should they choose, could have a strong say in the next PC leader and, likely, the next premier of Ontario. They just have to sign up before Feb. 16.