Monte McNaughton said that Brown shares his social conservative convictions, but also the best approach to party revitalization.

Monte McNaughton said that Patrick Brown shares his social conservative convictions, but also the best approach to party revitalization.

While there was no risk of vote-splitting in the preferential ballot system, Monte McNaughton’s withdrawal leaves one social conservative in the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race.

On April 9, with about a month left in the campaign to find a new PC leader, McNaughton announced he would be winding down his campaign. McNaughton was a favourite of many social conservatives because he spoke out against Kathleen Wynne’s sex ed curriculum repeatedly both at Queen’s Park and the campaign trail. McNaughton endorsed Patrick Brown, a federal Conservative MP, who also opposes the curriculum.

Brown and McNaughton were both deemed supportable by Campaign Life Coalition based on their public record and personal interviews with the candidates. Brown has a perfect record on life and family issues in Parliament as rated by CLC.

The conventional wisdom is that MPP Christine Elliott, who is pro-abortion and pro-gay rights, was the frontrunner. But the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, was displaced as the overwhelming favourite when the membership numbers were announced. Brown had signed up more than 40,000 new members, out of about 66,000 memberships sold before the Feb. 28 cut-off date. There were also about 10,000 existing members of the party for a total of 76,000 eligible voters in the leadership race. Elliott claimed to have signed up 34,000 members but that is widely viewed as a bogus number that includes the previous membership list.

McNaughton confirmed with The Interim that with the assistance of CLC, Parents as First Educators, and other social conservative groups, he was able to sign up 12,000 new members. He withdrew to improve Brown’s chances of defeating the socially liberal Elliott and has campaigned with him in the final weeks before the May 3 and May 7 ballots.

When McNaughton withdrew and endorsed Brown, Elliott attacked them for their social conservative views. She issued a statement, urging party members “not choose a leader whose outdated views fall far outside today’s mainstream.” She said, “Patrick and Monte’s ideological rejection of a modern and inclusive Ontario will do nothing more than lose the next election and secure another term for Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals.” She said, “Progressive Conservatives can choose my positive, pragmatic and truly progressive conservative vision that will resonate with all Ontarians and win the next election.”

Elliott has a “red light” from CLC because she has vocally supported abortion. She has not opposed the content of the sex-ed curriculum, instead merely saying there was not enough consultation by the government. Elliott has co-sponsored a transgender rights bill at Queen’s Park, applauded organizers of Toronto’s Pride Parade, and spoke fervently in favour of a controversial bill that would ban psychotherapy for the conversion of homosexuals. CLC’s website said Elliott “might be the most socially liberal candidate to ever seek the PC Party leadership.”

McNaughton says if Elliott wins the leadership, the PCs will become “Liberal Lite.” He told The Interim, “Ontario doesn’t need a second Liberal Party.”

Elliott said during a leader’s debate in Windsor on April 11, “We need to change the direction and tone of our party in order to win, because right now we’re not appealing to a lot of women. There’s a huge gender gap.” McNaughton responded that by taking up the cause of parents against Wynne’s sex ed curriculum, he and Brown are bringing many new Canadians into the PC Party that otherwise were uninterested or not listening to the party’s message. He also said the Ontario PC Party works best when it is a coalition of fiscal and social conservatives, and he wonders whether Elliott will bring the two groups together.

McNaughton said that Brown shares his social conservative convictions, but also the best approach to party revitalization. Both want to reach out to people who do not traditionally vote Tory and bring them into the party. He said that an open, membership-driven process will benefit social conservatives by taking control of the party away from the Red Tory establishment who looks upon pro-life and pro-family voters with disdain.

Brown has said party establishment has now lost four elections in a row because the “top-down group that ran Queen’s Park did not value membership … The grassroots wants their party back.”

Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, said he is pleased to have a social conservative on the PC leadership ballot who can win. Hughes told The Interim, “If Brown wins, Ontarians will finally have a party leader and hopefully one day soon, a Premier, who is not hostile to traditionally-principled families.”

Although Brown has the momentum  – McNaughton’s endorsement, reports that his donations and donors now exceed Elliott’s, a narrowing of the gap in the polls  – it is still anyone’s race. The key to victory is turnout. Hughes said that all pro-life and pro-family Ontarians who bought a PC membership must remember to get out and vote. “This is a close race and every vote counts,” he said. “Pro-lifers have one clear choice and it’s Patrick Brown.”

Every member of the Ontario PC Party can vote for leader on either May 3 or May 7 in their own riding. People who purchased memberships before Feb. 28 should have received information where to vote and if they haven’t they can contact either their local riding association or CLC. The winner will be announced on May 9.