Tenure will be remembered for flip-flops and division
[Editor’s Note: Since this article was published in the print edition, interim leader Vic Fedeli and Monte McNaughton have announced they would not seek the permanent leader’s position. The Ontario PC Party announced that the deadline to become a member of the party and be eligible to vote is Feb. 16. Voting will occur March 2-8. The new leader will be announced March 10.]
On Jan. 24, CTV reported two women accused Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown of “sexual misconduct” in incidents before he became party leader. They both claimed Brown plied them with alcohol before he propositioned them to partake in oral or vaginal sex. Brown arranged a press conference 15 minutes before the stories were to air on the 10 pm news and denied the allegations, vowed to clear his name, and said he would stay on as leader. Over the next four hours, as senior staff and campaign advisors resigned and Tory MPPs began to speak out online, it became clear that Brown’s hope of remaining leader was untenable and he resigned shortly before 1:30 am.
Pro-life and social conservative members are not disappointed to see Brown, who won the leadership in 2015 after promising to overturn Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum, step down. Immediately after winning the Progressive Conservative leadership in May 2015, Brown marched in the Toronto Pride parade and indicated he could live with the sex-ed curriculum which initiated students as young as Grade 1 into graphic sexual material. The following summer during the by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River, Brown flip-flopped twice, reversing his newfound support for sex-ed in order to win votes in one of the province’s most ethnic ridings by releasing a letter vowing he would scrap the sex-ed curriculum. Within 24 hours, he wrote a column for the Toronto Star fully embracing the sex-ed curriculum and he went on several Toronto radio stations to recant his opposition to it; in one interview Brown went so far as to say that he did not even want the support of voters who opposed same-sex “marriage” and sex-ed.
It was in that by-election that Parents as First Educators (PAFE) recruited Queenie Yu to run and highlight the sex-ed issue. Yu finished fourth in an 11-person race, garnering more than 500 votes as an independent.
A few months later, Patrick Brown tried to railroad the nomination of 19-year-old pro-life candidate Sam Oosterhoff who was running for the PC nomination in the Niagara West—Glanbrook by-election. Oosterhoff defeated two members of the PC provincial board including party president Rick Dykstra. A party source told The Interim that Brown’s office “keeps Sam on a short leash” to prevent him speaking out on life and family issues.
Last October, at the urging of Nepean—Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod, Brown had the PC caucus support the Wynne government’s bubble zone law. Indeed, MacLeod and Brown called on the government to expedite passage of the bill.
What really upset pro-life and pro-family Conservatives, however, was how Brown and his operatives appeared to interfere in numerous nomination battles to defeat or disqualify pro-life and socially conservative candidates. Campaign Life Coalition worked with candidates in more than a half dozen ridings in which the pro-life candidate was prevented from seeking the nomination or was the victim of nomination meeting shenanigans. Pro-life candidates were not the only ones railroaded in the nomination process, with at least four high-profile cases and lawsuits alleging interference making headlines over the past year.
Under Brown’s leadership, the party also nixed the constitutionally mandate policy convention scheduled for last fall and replaced it with an online consultation where party members could vote on predetermined policy ideas. No pro-life or pro-family policies were among more than 100 allowed for consideration, and Brown defended the decision, saying that there was no room for socially conservative ideas in a modern, Progressive Conservative Party. Campaign Life Coalition’s Jack Fonseca condemned the consultation process as a sham.
Fr. Raymond de Souza, a Catholic priest and prominent Canadian pundit, wrote at Convivium: “(Brown) exhibited, in his relatively short public life, the deeper spiritual corruption of seeing the capture of public office as the supreme – even exclusive – end in itself, and to employ any means to achieve it.” That is, Brown was a ruthless operator who cared not an iota about good policy or the common good, only about getting elected premier.
The controversies over Brown’s sex-ed flip-flop and nomination fights led to the creation of three distinct socially conservative or social-conservative leaning parties: the Alliance Party of Ontario, the Trillium Party, and the Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda Party.
Tanya Granic Allen, president of Parents as First Educators, said in an email to supporters after Brown resigned that the sex-ed issue featured prominently in his leadership, and observed: “Isn’t it ironic that the sexualization of children, which is product of the Wynne sex-ed which Patrick Brown was so eager to promote, ended up being his downfall?”
MPP Vic Fedeli (North Bay) was named interim leader. When The Interim went to press the party had not officially announced details of a leadership race and media reports said there was internal pushback against the idea of a leadership race, which some party insiders think will be too divisive before the June 7 provincial election. Sources tell The Interim the leadership announcement will likely be March 24 with a membership cutoff for vote eligibility of mid-February.
Frontrunners for the permanent leadership according to press reports include MPPs MacLeod and Vic Fedeli (North Bay), Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and a candidate in York-Simcoe, and former Toronto mayoral candidate Doug Ford.
Pro-life leaders were lobbying former MP Pierre Lemieux, who ran for the federal leadership last year, to consider running. MPP Monte McNaughton (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex), who ran for the leadership in 2015 before withdrawing from the race, and former MP Stella Ambler (Mississauga South) are also rumoured to mulling entering the leadership.
Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of CLC, told The Interim, that approximately 40 per cent of the party is pro-life and pro-family, and yet the media focuses on pro-abortion candidates for leader. He worries the PCs could decide on a process to name a new leader without going to the membership in either a one-member, one-vote leadership race or a delegated convention. “After Patrick Brown ignored the wishes of members in deciding policy and in nominations, the Ontario PCs would be wise to pay close attention to what its membership wants heading into the general election in June.”
Gunnarson said CLC is encouraging supporters “to join the party in the event a pro-life leader with a backbone enters and becomes the voice we want to be able to support whole-heartedly.” He said even if a pro-life candidate does not enter the race, becoming a member allows Ontario residents to become active at the local level supporting pro-life policy and candidates at the EDA (electoral district association) level.