For being elected the new Progressive Conservative leader of Ontario and potentially the province’s next premier, Doug Ford can thank Tanya Granic Allen, the long-shot candidate who, without a doubt, changed the course and the outcome of the brief PC leadership race.
Granic Allen was the kingmaker in the contest, which concluded Saturday night as dramatically as it had begun, triggered by the sudden resignation of Patrick Brown. He stepped down in late January following sexual misconduct allegations, which he denies.
Without Granic Allen in the race, Ford wouldn’t have had enough votes to eke out his narrow win over Christine Elliott, and he may not have leaned as hard to the right to court social conservative members.
The feisty 37-year-old, who talks with the energy of someone who just downed three triple espressos, said in an interview with CBC News Tuesday that she knew she’d have an impact on the PC leadership race, she just wasn’t sure how big.
“Clearly after the results and we saw that Doug won, it’s been pretty much laid bare that our campaign had a huge impact, and we were pretty much the deciding factor in who would be leader,” said Granic Allen, the head of Parents As First Educators (PAFE), an organization that is opposed to Ontario’s sex education curriculum.
PCs elect their leader using a ranked ballot. Elliott beat Ford on the first ballot and Caroline Mulroney came third, but no one had a majority of votes. Granic Allen finished last, which meant she dropped off for the second round. The results of the second ballot show that Granic Allen’s supporters moved to Ford, and that was enough to push him into first.
Granic Allen estimates that about 80 per cent of her supporters went to Ford, though she says she didn’t instruct her supporters to put the former Toronto city councillor as their second choice. Rather, she encouraged people “to vote based on their issues.”
She also says she never made any deals with any candidate during the campaign.
The announcement of Ford’s victory was delayed by several hours Saturday after Elliott disputed the way some votes were allocated. But when it came, around 10 p.m., Granic Allen was there. She says she would have stood behind whoever was named leader.
The next day, following a hectic month of campaigning, Granic Allen caught her breath. She went to church then had lunch with her parents, who live in Etobicoke, where she and Ford both were raised. Later, she went swimming with her husband and four children in the hotel pool.
Reflecting on the race, Granic Allen said she was in it to win it and even though she lost, she feels victorious. She accomplished her goal of putting sex education on the agenda, and she also pitched herself as a voice for grassroots conservatives who were frustrated by the way Brown ran the party.
The group Granic Allen heads, PAFE, considers Ontario’s sex education “radical” because of some of the content that’s taught and at what ages concepts like gender identity are introduced.
Granic Allen said her entry in the race “shone a light” on the issue and challenged the other candidates to state their positions. Ford was the first to say he would revise the curriculum. Elliott said she was open to it, while Mulroney said she would leave it alone.
“Yes, I definitely think that my being in the race shifted the debate,” Granic Allen said.
She caught people’s attention during the first televised debate when she quipped that perhaps Ontario’s students would be doing better in math if they weren’t distracted talking about anal sex in the classroom.
“I think after the first debate people thought, ‘Who is this woman?’ After the second debate, my performance there, people just really said we have to listen to what she’s got to say,” Granic Allen said.
Even though she’s never run for office before, Granic Allen says she was not intimidated by the pressure or public speaking that came with it.
She graduated with a degree in politics from Western University, where she was active with the school’s campus conservatives. Along the way she took courses in Russian literature and the history of aviation.
She’s volunteered on many campaigns and worked in municipal politics, serving as executive assistant to former Toronto city councillor John Parker. She overlapped there with the late Rob Ford, Doug’s brother, who was a councillor and then mayor, world famous for his alcohol and drug problems. She didn’t know Doug Ford well then but recalls him being known as Rob’s “protector” at city hall.
Granic Allen left the full-time workforce when she started having children and says that until two years ago she was a typical urban Toronto mom, pushing a stroller and sipping a latte, squeezing in consulting contracts when she could. Then she and her husband decided to ditch the city life and buy a farm two hours’ drive north.
Now Granic Allen loves the rural life and rides around on a tractor — she posted a YouTube video of that during her campaign.
Her children are home-schooled not just because of her opposition to the sex education curriculum but also because she didn’t have confidence in the education system in general under Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government.
“I would like to better the system, and I would love for my children to participate in that system once we better it,” said Granic Allen.
Her work with PAFE entails many evening events, which has allowed her to be home with her children during the day, but that could change if she runs in the June election.
“I haven’t made any decisions. We’ll see what happens,” she said, adding that she is consulting with her family.
Granic Allen said she is happy her party has a new leader and that it’s Ford. She said she’s pleased with what she heard from him about the sex education curriculum during the campaign.
How much of a priority he makes it, if he becomes premier, is an open question, Granic Allen acknowledged.
“I’ll leave that up to Doug and his team,” she said. “We’ll see once they form government what happens.”
Ford has acknowledged he had the support of social conservatives in the race and has promised not to abandon them. In addition to talking about sex education, he also said during the campaign that he would allow his MPPs to put forward bills aiming to restrict access to abortion, and he talked about requiring young people to get parental consent for the procedure.
Whether sex education, abortion or other social conservative issues stay on Ford’s radar could depend on whether Granic Allen ends up at the Ontario legislature, where she can keep pushing them. She had the strong endorsement of anti-abortion group Campaign Life.
Her potential role at Queen’s Park worries PC members like Eric Lorenzen, a gay conservative who speaks for the group LGBTory.
“For someone with her background and her record on LGBT issues to be in a position to influence the leader of the party is quite problematic for me,” he said in an interview with Radio-Canada.
His group supports the sex education curriculum and likes that it encourages understanding and tolerance of various sexual orientations and gender identities.
Lorenzen is concerned that the people who gravitate to Granic Allen “are now gravitating towards Ford.”
Granic Allen doesn’t have long to make a decision about running. The campaign begins in early May, and she would have to find a suitable riding that doesn’t yet have a nominated candidate.
For now, though, Granic Allen is regrouping after an intense and unexpected launch into provincial politics. She got recognized while shopping at Costco on Monday, and if that’s any barometer, the previously unknown activist has certainly made a mark on Ontario politics.