After former Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin lost as the Progressive Conservative candidate in Ottawa-Vanier in a Nov. 17 by-election in a riding the Liberals have held since 1971 and was not expected to win anyway, he lashed out at social conservatives. In a press conference he said the Ontario PCs should steer “to the middle” to win elections and that the Tories are “going to have a challenge on their hands to keep the socons in place.” He said social conservatives are “a threat to the party” and that “if they start calling some of the shots, I think you’ll see a very fast erosion in the popularity of the party.”
On the same day, Sam Oosterhoff, won a by-election in Niagara-West Glanbrook with more than half the vote. He is the 19-year-old social conservative who defeated party president Rick Dykstra for the nomination in October before keeping the riding in the PC ledger at Queen’s Park.
Despite the fact that the social conservative won his by-election and a social liberal lost his, pundits repeated Marin’s claim that holding traditional moral views was an election liability. Alan Carter, host of Global TV’s Focus Ontario, warned that social conservatives could cost the Patrick Brown-led PCs the next provincial election as they undermine the leader’s efforts to build an “inclusive” and “modern” Progressive Conservative Party to take on Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals in 2018.
The Toronto Star reported that Liberal pollster David Herle told his party’s Nov. 19 conference that his polling indicate the Ontario Tories lose support when voters are told of his own past social conservative record. Herle said 70 per cent of voters would reconsider their support of the Tories when they learn Brown was interested in reopening the abortion debate, while 74 per cent would reconsider when told the PC leader once wanted to reopen the marriage issue. Herle’s findings suggest a possible Liberal line of attack against Brown leading up to the provincial election despite the fact he repudiated these positions from when he was a federal MP.
Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim that social issues are not the political albatross they are portrayed in the media and by some in the party. Gunnarson said many voters do not care about social issues at all as long as parties and political candidates do not seem to prioritize them over the concerns of most voters, issues like health, education, and taxes.
Gunnarson said social conservatives are not interested in taking over the Progressive Conservatives or any other party, but rather would like the opportunity to contribute to policy debates and compete for nominations on a level playing field. Several pro-life, anti-sex ed candidates have been disqualified from seeking the party’s nomination in recent months.
Gunnarson said that he has been surprised at the number of pro-life staff and volunteers at PC conventions in recent years, saying there are many people ensconced in the party “who share our views — not just grassroots supporters, but people who hold positions in the riding associations.” Gunnarson warned that the party could lose not just voters but their base of activists and volunteers if it eschews social conservatives.
He doubts the party could purge socons even if it wanted with so many people sympathetic to the cause working and volunteering for the Tories. CLC estimates that social conservative voters make up 40 per cent of the provincial PC base of voters. Gunnarson said alienating them would ensure the Tories lose the next election.