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Confused yet? Ontario PCs seem confused, too, over Friday’s leadership selection process

The options facing Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, in the aftermath of Patrick Brown's ignominious exit as their leader, are imperfect at best.

Still, it has taken some work to land on the uniquely absurd option the party has chosen for selecting a replacement for Mr. Brown, who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, which he denies.

On Thursday evening, the provincial party's executive faced a fairly straightforward if difficult choice:

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Either it could decide that the interim leader to be elected Friday morning by caucus would get to lead the Tories into this spring's provincial election, an outcome that supporters of North Bay MPP Vic Fedeli, who expects to win the interim vote, are lobbying for.

Or it could have decided that the interim leader would only serve for a month or two until a general-membership vote to determine who would be at the helm for the campaign, the preferred outcome of those pushing for potential candidate Caroline Mulroney, among others outside caucus who might want the job.

Instead, split on these two choices, the party executive decided to put off the decision – just until immediately after the caucus meeting that will have selected the new leader, or interim leader, or whatever exactly he or she turns out to be.

Why the folks in the room decided to go this route is not entirely clear. According to one source who was there, the decision to delay was pushed by Mr. Fedeli's supporters, on the apparent assumption his power play would work out better if he had already gotten the interim job than if he was just a candidate for it.

Whatever they were aiming for, what they have achieved is a process in which PC MPPs will be given the option of seeking a job, without knowing whether that job is to serve as a caretaker for a few weeks, or to seek to become the province's next premier.

Meanwhile, other caucus members will be asked to make either a somewhat or an extremely important choice about who will lead them, without knowing what qualities – the ability to hold things together during a brief and difficult period, or to go on TV during a campaign and debate Kathleen Wynne – they should be prioritizing.

Because the party hasn't yet committed to a full membership vote, the interim leadership job also may not come with the standard restriction – applied recently, for instance, to Rona Ambrose – against competing for the job on a longer-term basis. In other words, it's not yet clear whether winning Friday's vote would preclude also trying to win a general-membership vote, if one were called before the campaign against Ms. Wynne.

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So if Mr. Fedeli or someone else with long-term ambitions won the interim vote, then the party decided it was going to do a general-membership vote after all, he or she might have an unfair advantage over other candidates: getting to use the leader's office's resources while campaigning to be its more permanent occupant.

Conversely, if the party decided after the fact that it was going to have a general-membership vote and the interim leader wasn't allowed to compete in it, then someone like Mr. Fedeli could effectively find out after the fact they had dashed their own hopes of being premier.

Confused yet? You're surely not alone. The Tories seem to have confused themselves a little, too. And if this is how they've handled one of the simpler decisions of this strange new era they're in, there could be a lot more confusion ahead.

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