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Michael TaubeThe Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ new leader will be revealed on March 10, bringing a merciful end to a short, nasty and brutish period for the party.

The four leadership candidates – Christine Elliott, Doug Ford, Tanya Granic Allen and Caroline Mulroney – have had moments of conciliation, goodwill, tough talk and feistiness during this abbreviated campaign. They’ve all come out against the detrimental carbon tax and defended small ‘c’ conservative values in an upbeat fashion.

I’ll support the winner without hesitation. Nevertheless, there needs to be a winner. So here’s a look at the candidates and, ultimately, my endorsement:

Elliott, a lawyer and wife of late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, has the most political experience. She served as an MPP from 2006 to 2007 in the riding of Whitby-Ajax, and from 2007 to 2015 in the riding of Whitby-Oshawa. This is her third attempt to win the PC leadership, having lost to Tim Hudak in 2009 and Patrick Brown in 2015.

While there’s no question Elliott’s third leadership run has been stronger than her first two efforts combined, there are lingering concerns. Her red Tory views don’t necessarily mesh with most PC supporters and could water down her policies. She’s also strayed from her political messaging on the carbon tax, whether accidentally or intentionally. It makes me wonder if she’s being genuine or playing political games.

Granic Allen, president of Parents As First Educators, has worked hard to defend fiscal policies and social conservative values. She has plenty of chutzpah, and has challenged the candidates on their political records and views. She’s opposed to the carbon tax and Ontario’s sex education curriculum, and that has curried favour with the grassroots.

Nevertheless, Granic Allen has pigeonholed her campaign. Her political and economic ideas often get overshadowed by her social conservatism. She also doesn’t strike people as being a bridge-builder – a problem for any leadership candidate. It’s hard to see how she could effectively bring opposing forces in the party together.

Mulroney, a lawyer, fund manager and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, is intelligent, talented and hard-working. She’s positioned herself as a fresh face in politics, free from the party’s political wrangling and internal strife. She’s raised more than $700,000 in political donations and assembled a talented team of strategists.

Unfortunately, Mulroney has no previous political experience – and it’s shown. She’s still getting her feet wet in this rough-and-tumble environment. Her media appearances haven’t been strong. And the debates have uncovered weaknesses in policy positions (like education) and the ability to come up with off-the-cuff remarks. These are the sorts of holes that Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne could expose in an election campaign.

As for Ford, some Conservatives (including me) were worried when the businessman and former Toronto city councillor jumped into the race unprepared. His speaking style and mannerisms have never been described as eloquent. He’s more of a street fighter than policy wonk. There were fears that the circus environment associated with his late brother Rob Ford’s mayoral term in Toronto could occur on a provincial level.

Yet none of this has happened. Ford has been the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of this leadership race. He’s been a true champion of fiscal and social conservatism. His genuine, plain-talking style has paid dividends. His ability to stay on message has been nearly flawless. His strong opposition to the carbon tax has been appreciated, and helped attract huge audiences in urban and rural Ontario.

Ford has been able to shine because this has truly been his first moment in the sun. There are none of the distractions found at Toronto City Hall or sideshows to deal with. He’s been focused on defending conservative ideas, improving the People’s Guarantee platform document and building a better Ontario.

I like what I see and I see a future premier. Hence, my choice for the next Ontario PC leader is Doug Ford.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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