Doug Ford is the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives.
The announcement comes after a delay that lasted more than seven hours as party officials reviewed the results of the vote.
Ford becomes the leader of Ontario’s official opposition and will lead the charge to unseat Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne in an election that’s just three months away.
He defeated opponents Christine Elliott, Toronto lawyer Caroline Mulroney and social conservative advocate Tanya Granic Allen to secure the leadership.
“I will get our party back on track,” Ford said.
“To the people of Ontario, I say relief is on its way. And to Kathleen Wynne I say your days as premier are numbered.”
Ford replaces Patrick Brown as leader after he abruptly resigned in late January amid sexual misconduct allegations, which that he vehemently denies.
Ford’s coronation as party leader marks the culmination of a tumultuous six weeks in Tory circles that began late in the evening on Jan. 24.
That night Brown, who had been comfortably beating the Liberals and NDP in pre-election polls, called a late-night news conference to deny allegations of sexual misconduct, only to step down as party leader hours later while still maintaining his innocence.
His abrupt departure uncovered issues with the party’s structure, problems with its nomination processes, and discrepancies in its membership numbers, leading the Tories’ interim leader to declare he would “root out the rot” before handing over the reins to a new leader.
The party has since reopened two nominations in contested ridings and abandoned a legal battle with a former party member who clashed with Brown over the nominations and other issues.
The Tories have also upgraded their IT system in response to a cyberattack last fall and cut undisclosed contracts in their effort to move past the wave of controversies that has drawn national attention in recent weeks.
The leadership race itself has also stirred strife and forced party brass to defend their decisions on a number of fronts.
Tensions grew when Brown, fresh off a campaign to clear his name, announced he would throw his hat in the ring in an attempt to reclaim his job. His conduct as leader and status in the June election had already taken centre stage in the leadership campaign and stirred debate among those hoping to succeed him.
Some of Brown’s rivals initially denounced his candidacy, calling it a distraction, but then stepped back to focus on their own campaigns. Mulroney, however, called for him to back out of the race, which he eventually did, citing the strain on his friends and relatives.
All four candidates have also raised the alarm over possible membership fraud and delays in member registration. The party said it was aware of those concerns and thrice pushed back the deadline for party members to register for the vote.
Ford, Mulroney and Granic Allen pushed for the party to extend the race by a week to allow votes from those who received key documents late, but the leadership election organizing committee said doing so would contravene the party’s constitution.
Ford also alleged party members were sending documents to hand-picked members while excluding others, including his own mother.
Hours after Ford’s claims, a lawyer representing a disenfranchised member of the party filed a legal application seeking to delay the leadership decision by an additional week, in order to give more members a chance to receive their documents and cast a ballot.
Party officials argued that delaying the race would damage its chances in the pending election, adding that the roughly 64,000 people who had successfully voted represented an all-time high for voter turnout.
Superior Court Justice Todd Archibald ultimately sided with the party, dismissing the request to extend the race that had already cost $1.5 million.
Saturday’s delays also prompted criticism.
Cristine de Clercy, an associate professor of political science at Western University, said the party’s laconic performance 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. There’s not even the latitude for error that a normal party might enjoy,” she said.
“Unfortunately the thing blew apart today.”