As expected, gaining three back-to-back by-election victories, each more arduous than the last, has increased the partisan hectoring directed at Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown. With the prospect of star candidate André Marin potentially winning the vacant seat of Ottawa-Vanier, a constituency that has elected Liberals for decades at both levels of government, such hectoring has spiralled into the realm of the illogical.
Take, for example, an op-ed penned by Mainstreet Research president Quito Maggi last week in the Huffington Post in which he contends that the dearth of female interest in vying for PC nominations in by-elections is "unacceptable".
With all due respect to Mr. Maggi, a stalwart of the Canadian polling and research industry who is absolutely entitled to the rights and freedoms we all cherish in our liberal democratic nation, he is not entitled to his own facts.
There are two major difficulties with Maggi's contention. One is his claim that "since Patrick Brown became leader, not a single female candidate has stepped forward to express interest in a nomination for a by-election". This is a blatant untruth. In the nomination race for the PC Party in Whitby-Oshawa, a Tory “safe-seat” (side note: I hate that term) formerly held by deputy PC leader Christine Elliot, a female PC member named Charity McGrath did indeed throw her hat into the ring and contested the nomination.
The other issue arose in a brief twitter exchange following the editorial. I pointed out that the article was misleading by sending Maggi a tweet with a link to an article about Ms McGrath seeking the nomination – this was the response:
This is what's called "moving the goalpost" in argumentation theory. This fallacy takes the criteria of proof for an argument to be valid, and changes it in order to prevent the opponent from validating his/her argument. Originally the argument was that PC women are not by-election candidates, which Maggi changed to be women by-election candidates in "winnable ridings", with the ultimate implied conclusion that the PCs are sexist, and that the Liberals are not.
But, rather comically, this new measure still works in favour of the PCs. Enter Equal Voice, a Canadian national multi-partisan non-profit organization that aims to elect more women to all levels of government. Equal Voice released a report in the aftermath of the 2014 Ontario general election about female participation and successes in getting women elected to the Legislature.
Borrowing from this report, the organization defines a "winnable riding" as “those which a party won or came within 5 points of the winning party in the 2011 general election or a subsequent by-election”. Taking this as the standard of what constitutes a “winnable riding” for a candidate, and applying it to the context of Maggi's assertion that the PC Party is a gentlemen's club during by-elections, the conclusion is humorous.
Looking back at Ontario's electoral history, there have been four by-elections since the last election. In the only race in which the Liberals nominated a woman candidate (Whitby-Oshawa), the riding would not be considered 'winnable' for the Liberals since Christine Elliot retained her seat in 2014 by a margin of over 5 points.
In fact the last instance in which a female candidate from the Liberal Party of Ontario carried her party's standard in a 'winnable' by-election was before the Ontario Progressive Conservatives did the same thing. This was back in 2013, when Mitzie Hunter was the Liberal candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood. The last time the PC Party did so was in 2014 in my riding of Thornhill, where PC Gila Martow was nominated as the candidate. In fact prior to this, the last time the Ontario Liberals nominated a female candidate in a “winnable” seat for a by-election was all the way back in 2007 in Burlington.
Putting this into the context of Ontario's current political landscape, petty partisan shots such as Maggi's contention that the PC party is not encouraging of female leadership, or that our base is only "old white males and rural voters", is a symptom of unease within the Liberal ranks. It is no stretch of the imagination to think that the Liberals, seeing their polling numbers, or experiencing a Tory breakthrough in traditionally Grit Scarborough-Rouge River, or hearing news of Premier Kathleen Wynne being booed by the audience at the International Plowing Match, are beginning to seriously worry about the 2018 election.
Fortunately we have a leader who will take the party into the next general election with a slate as diverse as the party itself. With female PC members announcing their nomination candidacy in the early stages of campaign preparation, its good to see so many qualified women stepping up in areas like Carleton, Ottawa, Newmarket, Hastings-Lennox & Addington, Oakville, Burlington, and Mississauga.
The Progressive Conservative Party is not the party of gender quotas and flippant remarks about the current year, and to suggest that the current leadership has failed to attract female talent is both laughable and false.