Social conservative organizations like Campaign Life Coalition endorsed Patrick Brown in the 2015 Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race based on his perfect parliamentary voting record during his time as an MP and his promise to scrap the early sex-ed curriculum. When Campaign Life Coalition’s political team met him that spring, Brown explained he would not sign a questionnaire and attempted to diffuse comments that appeared to support the status quo on abortion by telling CLC to “judge me on my record.”
Brown was running against Christine Elliott, a pro-abortion, pro-gay “marriage” Tory MPP. Brown won easily and an analysis of the results by CLC suggested that the roughly 6000 socially conservative voters signed up for the leadership contest by the organization and Parents as First Educators, provided his large margin of victory. While it would be incorrect to say Brown won because of the pro-life and pro-family vote, a narrow win would have entrenched divisions within the party. Brown had firm control of the party, at least in part, because of social conservative support.
The 16 months following Brown’s victory has been rocky, to say the least. Brown marched in the Toronto Pride Parade. He told Toronto Life his pro-life voting record reflected the heavy hand of the Prime Minister’s Office (which was laughable considering that Stephen Harper wanted nothing more than to avoid moral issues during his tenure as prime minister). He indicated his positions on same-sex “marriage” and transgender had “evolved.” He never again mentioned the sex-ed curriculum despite naming himself the PC education critic.
In June, Brown told the Globe and Mail he was no longer opposed to Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed program. But a Sept. 1 by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River, the most ethnic riding in the province, had to the party fishing for votes among disgruntled opponents of sex-ed, leading to a series of events that had the PC leader reverse himself yet again and castigate his erstwhile social conservative supporters.
An independent candidate, Queenie Yu, ran on a single-issue platform of rescinding sex-ed. Worried about the tight race with the Liberals despite having a high profile candidate in city councilor Raymond Cho running for the Tories, the party released a letter to social conservative groups and Yu committing a PC government to rescinding the “controversial” parts of the curriculum and promising greater parental consultation in the future. A version of the letter was distributed to voters in Scarborough Rouge-River in both Chinese and English.
Once news of the letter was reported in the media on August 26, Brown adviser Walied Soliman tweeted it wasn’t true, but Brown reiterated his support for the letter’s contents several times over the next few days.
On August 29, Brown wrote a column for the Toronto Star admitting he made a mistake, saying the letter did not represent his true views, and blaming the local campaign for the letter. He wrote, “I strongly support an updated curriculum that takes into account changing attitudes and the world in which children now dwell.” Therefore, “it is important to have sex education to combat homophobia, and raise important issues like consent, mental health, bullying, and gender identity. The world has changed and so should the curriculum.” He explained that there would be limits to parental consultation in the future: “consultation doesn’t mean opening the door to intolerance. I will never support removing LGBT sensitivity or combating homophobia from schools. I will always support consulting with parents and giving them a voice, but I will never support intolerance in our society.” Brown vowed, “to lead an Ontario PC Party that is modern, inclusive, pragmatic, and that reflects the diversity and values of our province.”
CLC vice president Jeff Gunnarson told The Interim that “apparently diversity does not include social conservatives and that the values of pro-life and pro-family Ontarians do not matter in the province.”
Brown sought to distance himself from his original by-election letter by telling the CBC’s Matt Galloway that opponents of sex-ed should not vote for Cho in the by-election. When was the last time you heard a politician tell voters not to support his party?
On Sept. 1, Cho defeated Liberal Piragal Thiru by nearly 2400 votes in an election which saw fewer than one in four registered voters cast a ballot. Yu garnered 582 votes, good for 2.32 per cent of the total, and twice that of the Green Party candidate.
Yu told The Interim she was pleased to make sex-ed the issue of the by-election, bumping transit, jobs, and hydro rates off the radar in the final week of the campaign. She also said her independent campaign “exposed Patrick Brown for who he really is.”
In the weeks after the by-election, the Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie doggedly pursued the unanswered question from Brown’s letter: who wrote and/or okayed. Brown’s chief of staff Nick Pappalardo was revealed to be involved, communicating with Yu in an apparent attempt to convince the independent to drop out of the race. It seems incredulous that Pappalardo acted without Brown’s knowledge, but the official line is that the PC leader was at a caucus retreat in northern Ontario and couldn’t be reached because he had his cell phone off for seven hours. Anyone who knows anything about politicians knows they while they might be out of touch, they are never are out of reach.
CLC political strategist Jack Fonseca charged Brown with betrayal of his socially conservative base and called for him to resign. Brown responded that “I’m sorry that Mr. Fonseca and members of his group are upset,” but then insinuated social conservatives exaggerate their influence with the Progressive Conservative Party. After Charles McVety of Canada Christian College said he was misled by Brown’s suggestion he shared socially conservative positions and thus became a PC member to support his leadership, Brown told the media that he would happily refund the pastor’s $10 membership fee.
Some social conservatives read that as Brown being happy that socons would leave the PC Party. Fonseca suggested that Brown wants pro-family voters to leave because they would support a non-confidence vote against the leader.
CLC issued a statement on Facebook urging supporters to remain involved in party politics. “Patrick Brown lied to us and has broken the trust of thousands of PC members. Let him say what he wants. The truth is, Patrick Brown’s hostility and duplicity towards pro-life and pro-family members of the PC Party doesn’t change anything. We’re not going away.” CLC encourages pro-life and pro-family Ontarians to support those seeking local nominations that share their views and to put forth policies that reflect their principles.
While social conservatives are understandably upset with the betrayal, even liberal Tories are wondering whether the flip-flop hurts the party as their leader begins to look unprincipled.
His opportunism surrounding sex-ed sends a clear message not only to social conservatives, but all voters: Patrick Brown is the sort of politician who will say anything to anyone to get elected.