The Canadian Press
AJAX, Ont.–While consistently dismissing critics who accuse her of cashing in on her family name, Caroline Mulroney has recruited her famous father to shore up support as she fights to seize the reins of Ontario’s Opposition.
Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney denied yesterday that he was brought in to add clout to his daughter’s campaign as she falls behind in the polls with only days to go before the Progressive Conservatives choose a new leader.
The former politician said he has been stumping for his daughter for weeks at fundraisers and other events, and said her bid for the leadership has been gaining momentum.
“I’m here because I’m her father, that’s all,” Mulroney told reporters after a lunchtime event in Ajax, Ont., east of Toronto–one of three such events he is scheduled to speak at this week while his daughter campaigns in other parts of the province.
He pushed back against suggestions that Caroline Mulroney, a Toronto lawyer and businesswoman, isn’t qualified for the job, saying he also was criticized as too green during his campaign to lead the federal party in 1983.
“That’s goofy stuff,” he said. “I had no political experience and look what happened: I won the two largest back-to-back majorities since Sir John A. Macdonald.
Polls had him lagging in third place days before he won the leadership, Mulroney said.
“I won that and I feel the same way about Caroline,” he added.
“She’s growing and the others are drawing anaemic crowds with very little enthusiasm that I can see.”
Former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, and parental rights’ activist Tanya Granic Allen also are vying to replace former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, who resigned in late January amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Brown repeatedly has denied the allegations and briefly campaigned to reclaim his job before dropping out of the race.
While Mulroney appears to be bringing out the big guns in the last stretch of the campaign, having her father in the spotlight could send mixed messages, said Genevieve Tellier, a political science expert at the University of Ottawa.
Mulroney so far has positioned herself as a fresh face outside of the political establishment and having her father there instead reinforces her connection to the old guard, Tellier said.
It also could undermine her efforts to establish herself as a leader in her own right, Tellier added.
The fact that the two are appearing separately rather than together suggests Mulroney is trying to strike a balance, she noted.
Mulroney’s camp said she is grateful for her father’s support as she criss-crosses the province meeting party members.
“Most know him as a lifelong conservative whose commitment to public service continues,” said spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman.
“He’s someone she turns to for advice and she’s grateful for his support.”
While the 43-year-old mother of four has faced the most scrutiny over her high-profile family connections, two of her rivals also have ties to well-known politicians.
Elliott’s late husband, Jim Flaherty, was a former provincial Tory legislator and went on to become the federal minister of finance under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Ford’s late brother, Rob, was the mayor of Toronto until 2014.
Meanwhile, the son of another famous Tory also could be running under the party’s banner in the spring election.
Mike Harris Jr., son of Ontario’s former PC premier Mike Harris, told radio station 570News he plans to seek the party nomination in Waterloo, Ont., a riding currently held by the New Democrats.
The Ontario Tories announce their new leader March 10.