The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party faces a court battle in the wake of Premier Doug Ford’s move to appoint a candidate in a riding considered an easy election win for the PCs.
Ford kiboshed the party’s nomination race in Simcoe-Grey by naming Brian Saunderson, currently the mayor of Collingwood, as the party’s candidate for next June’s election.
The court case is being brought by Stella Ambler, who has presented evidence that she was poised to win the nomination had PC party members in Simcoe-Grey been allowed to vote.
Lawyers for Ambler are asking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to quash the appointment and force the party to reopen the candidate nomination race. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Ambler “led a vigorous campaign, expending significant time, effort and resources,” her lawyers say in a court document. “Then, just two days after a membership list was disseminated showing Ms. Ambler in the lead, the nomination race was abruptly cancelled.”
The lawyers claim the move violates the PC Party constitution, which calls for the candidate nomination process to be “open, public and democratic.”
A clause in the party’s nomination rules allow the leader to appoint up to 10 election candidates among Ontario’s 124 ridings. Saunderson is the first — and so far only — candidate appointed by Ford under that rule for the 2022 election.
Ambler’s lawyers argue that the power is only intended to be used in limited circumstances, not when a nomination race is well underway. She began her campaign in November 2020, the party green-lit her to seek the nomination in January of this year, and Ford scuttled the race in June by appointing Saunderson.
The PC Party’s lawyers argue that the leader has always had power to appoint candidates and that the court should toss out Ambler’s case.
“Her current application fails to forthrightly request what she ultimately wants — an order that the court force the party leader to endorse her as a candidate,” said lawyer Arthur Hamilton in an email Thursday to CBC News.
Hamilton said the court does not have the capacity or jurisdiction to make such an order.
“The leader of a political party has the unfettered prerogative under the Elections Act to determine whether the party endorses a particular individual,” the PC lawyers state in their court document.
Simcoe-Grey has gone to a PC candidate in every election since its creation. The incumbent, Jim Wilson, resigned from the PC caucus in late 2018, has been sitting as an independent since then and announced he would not seek re-election next year.
Ambler lives in Wasaga Beach and her website for the PC nomination in Simcoe-Grey remains active. Her court document describes her as “actively involved in conservative politics at both the national and provincial level for over three decades.” She previously served federally as the Conservative MP for Mississauga South.
The next Ontario election is scheduled for June 2, 2022.