Canada provincial party elects new leader months before polls

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Progressive Conservatives leadership race candidate winner Doug Ford speaks with his wife Karla in Markham

Progressive Conservatives leadership race candidate winner Doug Ford speaks with his wife Karla in Markham, Ontario, Canada, March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

TORONTO (Reuters) - The main opposition party of Canada's most populous province, Ontario, elected a new leader on Saturday just three months before provincial elections, ending turmoil in the party following the sudden resignation of the previous chief.

The center-right Progressive Conservatives, which have been leading in polls to unseat the ruling Liberals, elected Doug Ford after a chaotic day of vote counting which saw the result delayed by several hours.

Fifty-three year old Ford is the brother of late Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto who gained global notoriety for admitting to smoking crack cocaine while in office.

The party was thrown into chaos in January after party leader Patrick Brown resigned following accusations of sexual misconduct. Brown has denied the allegations.

Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, will have to unify the party and spearhead a campaign to oust Ontario's 14-year-old Liberal government, led by Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"Tonight we took the first step in defeating Kathleen Wynne," Ford told reporters. "To the people of Ontario, I say relief is on its way."

The run-up to Saturday's election was marred by several hiccups, including troubles with voter registration and a failed last-minute attempt by Brown to re-enter the leadership race.

"We have a lot of work to do... in a very short amount of time," Ford said after winning the four-cornered contest. Ford defeated his nearest rival Christine Elliott, who lost the 2015 party chief race to Brown.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Denny Thomas; Editing by Daniel Wallis & Shri Navaratnam)