OTTAWA–A Progressive Conservative MPP says her own party has raised the stakes in her bitter nomination battle with a veteran political strategist in the federal riding of Thornhill.
The fight has pitted Gila Martow, who currently represents the riding at Queen’s Park, against Melissa Lantsman, who worked on the PCs’ winning 2018 election campaign, for the right to run there for the Conservatives in the next federal election.
Now, Martow has confirmed what numerous conservative sources have told the Star — that seeking the federal nomination has jeopardized her future with the provincial party, should she fail to secure the nomination and win the seat.
The race was launched after veteran Conservative MP Peter Kent said he would not seek re-election in Thornhill, a key GTA stronghold for the party. But the riding is also important for Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives as they prepare for the next provincial election.
Martow has held the riding provincially since 2014.
“It was made very clear to me that they would prefer that I did not seek this (federal) nomination, because obviously without the right number of (MPPs) it’s hard to run your caucus, it’s hard to maintain a strong majority government — and I understand that,” said Martow in an interview Tuesday.
“To be perfectly honest, between you and me, I think that they suspected if they told me that I’d be closing a door to running for them in the next provincial election, that I would give up on seeking the federal nomination,” she said.
“I wasn’t planning on making any of that public.”
Martow did not say who informed her about the provincial party’s position.
A spokesperson for the PC Party did not respond to questions from the Star about who made that decision and why.
“The Ontario PC Party does not comment on internal party matters,” wrote Christina Wramhed in a one-sentence statement.
But Georganne Burke, a longtime Conservative activist who calls Thornhill her home riding, speculated that the provincial party is concerned about losing experienced MPPs to O’Toole’s federal Conservatives.
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“I’m guessing the reason has nothing to do with Gila,” Burke said in an interview Tuesday.
“I think the reason is that Doug Ford and his team … (are) worried that other MPPs may see this and say, ‘Hey, I can do this too’ — because I’m pretty sure there are people who are interested in running and are being approached by the federal Conservatives as well.”
The nomination battle turned personal last week, with Martow issuing a statement calling Lantsman a “well-connected lobbyist” hired by “big-box retailers” to advocate on their behalf at the expense of small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lantsman is the vice-president of national public affairs at Enterprise, a strategic communications firm. She’s also become well-known as a conservative pundit and strategist who has worked both for the federal party in Ottawa and on Ford’s 2018 election campaign.
Two sources told the Star that there was an attempt to strike a deal between Martow and Lantsman, under which Lantsman would run provincially in Thornhill after Martow made the jump to federal politics.
Lantsman told the Star she had not had any conversations with either Ford or the PC party about a provincial bid.
But Burke said she had discussed that possibility with the candidates — both of whom she considers friends — and Martow confirmed that she had also discussed the idea with Lantsman.
Evidently, no deal was reached.
The two candidates will square off in a town hall Wednesday night hosted by BAYT Synagogue in the predominantly Jewish riding.
It’s not clear when the Conservatives will hold the nomination vote in Thornhill. Cory Hann, a spokesperson for the federal party, told the Star on Tuesday that the Conservatives have already nominated 80 candidates in anticipation of the next federal election.
Most of those are sitting MPs who were all given fundraising targets to automatically secure their renominations. Conservative MPs have been told they will be shielded from any nomination challenges if they raise $15,000 by the end of the year, or $25,000 by the end of April 2021.
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
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