On­tario PC leader sets lim­its

So­cial con­ser­va­tive poli­cies off lim­its at On­tario Tory con­ven­tion

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - ONTARIO NEWS - AL­LI­SON JONES

TORONTO — The leader of On­tario’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, a largely un­known politi­cian who polls sug­gest could be the prov­ince’s next pre­mier, says so­cial con­ser­va­tive is­sues will be off lim­its at his party’s much an­tic­i­pated pol­icy con­ven­tion.

Pa­trick Brown, who as a for­mer back­bench MP in Stephen Harper’s gov­ern­ment voted in favour of re­open­ing the abor­tion de­bate, has been busy try­ing to fend off Lib­eral at­tacks that he is a thinly dis­guised so­cial con­ser­va­tive. But Brown says he is pro-choice and more re­cently has led Pride pa­rade del­e­ga­tions.

“Any pol­icy that at­tempts to limit a woman’s right to choose or the abil­ity of same-sex cou­ples to marry are off lim­its, pe­riod,” Brown said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“I’m not going to say it’s even up for con­sid­er­a­tion when I per­son­ally could not de­fend that or sup­port it.”

The move says less about Brown him­self and more about his sense of On­tario’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and what will get him elected, said Ry­er­son Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Myer Siemi­aty­cki.

“This is Mr. Brown re­spond­ing to, I think, where the lay of the land is and pub­lic opin­ion is pre­dom­i­nantly set­tling in On­tario that he can’t win an elec­tion in On­tario by po­si­tion­ing him­self as the can­di­date of so­cial con­ser­vatism,” Siemi­aty­cki said.

Since be­com­ing party leader in 2015, Brown says he has boosted party mem­ber­ship — it’s now at 127,000 mem­bers, up from about 10,000 fol­low­ing the 2014 elec­tion loss — and be­lieves the vast ma­jor­ity are on board with so­cially pro­gres­sive poli­cies.

“Frankly, I think I opened the party up to tens of thou­sands more who sim­ply want a rea­son­able, thought­ful … mod­ern, in­clu­sive PC party,” he said. “So I’m not wor­ried about a few leav­ing.”

In an­other ef­fort to dis­tance him­self from so­cial con­ser­va­tive poli­cies, Brown pub­lished a video mo­ments be­fore the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate safe zones around abor­tion clin­ics, declar­ing him­self pro­choice and say­ing he would sup­port the bill. Party ads show clips of Brown re­peat­ing one of his of­ten-used lines, that in the PC party “it doesn’t mat­ter who you love.”

So­cial con­ser­va­tives inside the party have ac­cused Brown of flipflop­ping on the is­sue of sex ed­u­ca­tion — Brown spoke at an an­ti­sex-ed rally dur­ing the lead­er­ship cam­paign, promised in an e-mail to a sup­porter that he would re­peal the up­dated cur­ricu­lum, and later promised in a let­ter in a 2016 by­elec­tion to scrap it, though he later said he was un­aware of the let­ter be­fore it went out.

There will be no sex-ed pol­icy res­o­lu­tions at the con­ven­tion ei­ther, Brown said in the in­ter­view.

The Lib­er­als are more than ea­ger to re­mind vot­ers of Brown’s in­con­sis­ten­cies on so­cial is­sues, ac­cus­ing him last week of “dou­ble speak on abor­tion rights.” It was just the lat­est in a long string of at­tacks that paint him with an ex­treme right wing brush, while polls show half the prov­ince doesn’t know who he is — eight months be­fore the pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

The “shoe doesn’t fit,” Brown said.

“I was a back­bench mem­ber of a broader team,” he said of his time in the Harper gov­ern­ment. “Now that I’m the leader of the party I can much (more) clearly speak from my own heart … Rather than crit­i­cize the fact that opin­ions have evolved, we should cel­e­brate it.”

Party mem­bers will vote on­line be­tween Nov. 2 and 6 on 139 res­o­lu­tions, with re­sults an­nounced at the Nov. 25 con­ven­tion.

Car­bon tax is an­other pol­icy that will be off lim­its at the party pol­icy con­ven­tion.

Brown has al­ready promised he would dis­man­tle the cur­rent cap-and-trade pro­gram to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions and in­stead im­ple­ment a car­bon tax that would be off­set by other tax cuts — to the cha­grin of some of the base.

They bris­tle at the no­tion with com­plaints both pri­vately and pub­licly through blog posts and web­sites such as Axe the Car­bon Tax.

A for­mer PC cau­cus mem­ber who was ei­ther ex­pelled or re­signed cited the car­bon tax as a main rea­son for join­ing the fringe Tril­lium Party. But Brown brushes off any sug­ges­tion it’s a di­vi­sive is­sue.

“I think there’s a broader un­der­stand­ing in the party that I staked out some ground that we are going to take cli­mate change se­ri­ously, that we are going to sup­port car­bon pric­ing as part of the national frame­work, that we have to do our part on the en­vi­ron­ment, but it should not be used as a rev­enue grab by gov­ern­ment,” he said.

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On­tario PC Leader Pa­trick Brown says so­cial con­ser­va­tive is­sues will be off lim­its at his party’s much an­tic­i­pated pol­icy con­ven­tion.

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