On Oct. 13, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown announced the provincial Tories would not consider any socially conservative policies put forward by members in the online vote ahead of a policy convention scheduled for November 23-25
Campaign Life Coalition’s Jeff Gunnarson told The Interim his organization has heard from numerous grassroots members who put forward pro-life and pro-family policies that they were not among the 139 listed for consideration for the second phase of an online vote Nov. 2-6. Many grassroots Tories had put forward policies committing the party to defunding abortion, protecting the conscience rights of health care workers, and rescinding the provincial sex-ed curriculum. CLC was supporting the grassroots party members in their efforts.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Brown unabashedly said he prevented policies submitted by grassroots through the party’s ForOntario.ca website that addressed life and family issues from making it to the next phase of the policy process. “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. I’m not going to say it’s even up for consideration when I personally could not defend that or support it.”
Referencing his massive membership sign-ups in the 2015 leadership race, Brown added, “Frankly, I think I opened the party up to tens of thousands more who simply want a reasonable, thoughtful…modern, inclusive PC party.”
CLC signed up at least 6,000 members to support MPP Monte McNaughton and then federal MP Patrick Brown in order to defeat pro-abortion MPP Christine Elliott. Brown and McNaughton were both green lit by CLC for their pro-life and pro-family voting records. Since becoming leader, Brown has marched in the Toronto Pride Parade, reversed himself on sex-ed, and repudiated his past voting record on abortion and marriage.
He also flip-flopped on democratizing the party. He ran in 2015 on a promise of open nominations and in 2016 he vowed the policy process would be guided by the membership, not created in the backrooms of power. Brown has faced widespread criticism for interfering in riding nomination contests. And with the October announcement that membership-driven pro-life and pro-family policies were nixed, he has broken his promise to the delegates at the March 2016 party convention in Ottawa to listen to the grassroots.
Gunnarson said the PCs have gotten into trouble in recent years when party leaders have developed policy without consulting its membership, pointing to John Tory’s promise to fund all religious schools and Tim Hudak’s campaign utterance to fire 100,000 provincial employees. “The Progressive Conservatives haven’t learned from their past mistakes,” he told The Interim. He also said that Brown has been exposed as “someone who does not keep his promises, as a politician who will say or do anything to get elected.”
Gunnarson also said Brown has “gone out of his way to upset the socially conservative base of the Tory party by insisting during the leadership campaign and again at the beginning of this policy process that they would be heard and then stomping on their modest hope that the full membership would be allowed to debate and vote on some of their issues.”
Tanya Granic Allen, president of Parents as First Educators, urged pro-family voters to join the Take Back the PC Party Movement. “Why not put your PC Party membership to good use and get involved in the movement, Take Back Our PC Party?” she wrote in an email to PAFE supporters. “And it’s not too late to join if you didn’t take out a membership yet. You still have an opportunity to do so, and help in the taking back of the PC Party.”
The November policy convention costs $200 for members, but the party announced it will only reveal the results of the online vote from earlier in the month. Granic Allen said the event “is a political rally, not a policy convention.”
In 2015, after PC staff told membership it would not longer spring policy upon the party without consulting them, Brown announced the Tories would support a carbon tax. He said the membership would have a chance to ratify the decision at the policy convention but carbon taxes are not among the 139 policies members can vote on in early November.
Jack Fonseca, Campaign Life Coalition’s political strategist, said in a statement that Brown’s actions are not only a concern for social conservatives or opponents of carbon taxes. Fonseca wondered, “How can economic conservatives, democratic conservatives, or any member of the voting public for that matter trust a man so willing to cheat his own membership out of a fair vote? Just imagine how corrupt he could become with the power of the Premiership.”
Conservative Party activist John Casselman said in an email that Brown’s “continued poking of fiscal-, social-, and democratic-conservatives across the province needs to stop.”
Ottawa Citizen columnist David Reevely said most of the remaining policies members can vote on are vague statements few people would oppose. Among the 139 policies put forward by the party’s policy committee – some taken from grassroots, others identified as created by special policy committees on health, education, or the economy – include: “PC Party is to help make life more affordable for families with young children,” and “PC Party Policy is to guarantee faster service by all Ministries and agencies.”
The CBC reported that the motherhood statements “steer clear of controversy” yet “risk … missing out on bold ideas that will capture the imagination of voters.”