The new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, Patrick Brown, has been described both as a “formidable organizer” and “a radical Tea Party fundamentalist who is far outside the mainstream of this province”.
That Brown, who has just won the leadership of Ontario’s PC party, is a formidable organizer is without dispute. The new leader claims those skills have raised the membership of the party in the province to 75,000 up from 10,000.
He did that by taking a page from Jason Kenney, the Minister of National Defence and Minister for Multiculturalism, and a key player in the Stephen Harper government. In other words, Brown went after “cultural communities”.
During the 10-month campaign for the leadership, most notably against deputy leader Christine Elliot, Brown took his campaign to the doors of new Canadians who are more comfortable with a socially conservative government.
With his win, Brown, 37, will now have to give up his seat in Ottawa as the Member of Parliament for Barrie, a seat he has held for the past nine years. He will also have to find a provincial seat since, like John Tory before him, he was elected without being a member of the provincial legislature.
Brown has been vague about his own platform but calls himself “a pragmatic political Conservative”. His campaign strategy has been to point the finger of blame at party stalwarts for the party’s demise during the past decade of Liberal governance.
He received the resounding endorsement of the anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition. He also raised his profile by placing himself out front on the Ministry of Education’s controversial sex education curriculum. Among his talking point to crowds has been that educators should stick to reading, writing and arithmetic and leave sex education to parents. In calmer moments he refers to lack of consultation as the real issue with this controversy.
With Brown’s assertion that he is a pragmatist, he will have to find balance to gain any support outside the ring of blue come election time, three years hence.
He will try to keep both sides appeased by speaking at once of his pragmatism and to his social conservative support base.
He has also made his way to the top by calling out the old guard on their weak organizational machinery and criticized former leader Tim Hudak’s campaign promise to fire 100,000 people to balance the budget. Just about everyone within the PC caucus said they had not been consulted on this final nail in the Hudak leadership coffin.
It is clear that what got Brown elected was the desire for change. He came in as a fresh face and members who gave him their support did so because they are ready for change.
The problem is, however, that the change the PCs need will not necessarily come from a hard right Conservative, which Brown very much appears to be. In fact, he presents an old message, which is that the PC’s should not try to be Liberal-light but offer a distinct alternative to the Liberals.
Fair enough. But, what he may be overlooking in the attempt to be that alternative is that is what led to Hudak’s loss.
The reason the Progressive Conservatives were able to hold on to power for such an extended period in Ontario’s political history is they governed from the centre. Any political party or leader that loses sight of that in Ontario will either not get elected, or in the case of Mike Harris and his “Commonsense Revolution”, eventually decimate the party.
There is a reason the PCs now occupy the opposition seats, and it is not because the PC caucus don’t communicate well with each other. It is because they telegraphed a message that lacked humanity. If Brown hopes to give the PCs a chance, he had better learn that quickly.