Ontario PC interim leader Vic Fedeli has said he will run if the party holds an open leadership contest before the provincial election set for June 7. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
Fallout from Patrick Brown’s resignation last week continues to roil Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives as members wage an internal civil war over the future of the party and Brown loyalists are ousted.
Rick Dykstra stepped down as president of the PC party Sunday evening, saying he was taking “a step back” as the party moves to “coalesce” around a new leader
“After two years in this position, I know the party is prepared to take on the hard work necessary to fight this election,” he said in a statement.
The move comes after Alykhan Velshi, chief of staff under Brown, who remains in the post under interim leader Vic Fedeli, sent a memo to caucus, current candidates and staff outlining changes in personnel at the party. A copy of the memo was obtained by CBC Toronto.
Executive director Bob Stanley — among the most senior operatives for the PCs and a noted Brown backer — has been fired.
Stanley oversaw a deeply troubled riding nomination process last year, which saw several riding association executives quit in protest that the process had been “rigged” by Brown and his inner circle. There was public criticism of Brown’s leadership from senior party members after candidates were chosen.
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Brown’s deputy chiefs of staff, Tamara Macgregor and Rebecca Thompson, have been assigned to different roles and their former positions abolished. Thompson, a communications specialist, formerly worked for former minister of foreign affairs John Baird when he was transport minister. Brown brought her in from Ottawa to hone the party’s message heading into an election year.
Rick Dykstra stepped down as president of the PC party Sunday evening, saying he was taking “a step back” as the party moves to “coalesce” around a new leader. (CBC)
According to the memo, Thompson will be on the PCs leadership election organizing committee, the group responsible for drafting a framework for a leadership race.
Also noteworthy is the return of Nick Bergamini, a former spokesperson for Brown who resigned last week shortly after CTV published allegations of sexual misconduct levied at Brown by two women, dating from his time as an MP in Barrie, Ont. Bergamini will be the party’s director of communications.
Velshi told party members that Fedeli, who plans his own run at the leadership, was not dictating the changes.
“I want to be very clear that these decisions followed recommendations I made to the Leader when he asked me to become his chief of staff on Friday evening,” Velshi wrote in the memo.
‘We must all have a say’
News of the shuffling of top party players comes as the PCs try to contain another internal clash over whether to hold an open leadership race in the coming months or go into the June 7 provincial election with Fedeli as leader. Fedeli was chosen as interim leader at a snap meeting of the 28 caucus members on Friday morning.
Some MPPs who spoke to CBC Toronto last week said that a leadership contest would only distract members from the campaign to defeat Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. Just hours after Fedeli was chosen, the party’s executive committee opted to hold a leadership race.
The move was met with cautious optimism by those who favour an open contest, such as dozens of current PC candidates, including Caroline Mulroney, whose name has been floated as a possible leadership contender.
In an email sent out to party members, the president of the Eglinton-Lawrence riding association in Toronto urged the party to stick to its decision to initiate a fair and open leadership race.
“The Ontario PC Party is not made up of 28 people. It is made up of over 200,000 people,” said Clare Schulte-Albert. “This is a democracy, and we must all have a say in who we vote as our leader.”
Schulte-Albert said she has started a petition urging the executive committee to reaffirm its earlier decision.
On Sunday afternoon, the PC campaign chair and longtime friend of Brown, Walied Soliman, posted a tweet saying “while we have been thrust into picking a new leader, I cannot stress enough that we should not change course,” referring to the strategy Brown and his team have put in place.
“I urge everyone to stay positive and to stay focused. This is not the time for pettiness and winners and losers,” Soliman wrote.
Also Sunday, Toronto Mayor John Tory, who is a former PC leader, confirmed he will not be running for the party leadership.
“I have a job here that’s keeping me fully occupied and there is so much to do here in the City of Toronto,” he tweeted.