The Ontario Progressive Conservatives met March 4-6 in Ottawa for their general meeting. Nearly 1700 delegates voted on constitutional amendments, elected a new executive, and attended breakout sessions on how to run local riding associations and elections. In anticipation of the 2018 Ontario election, the party also launched its new policy development process.
The process was explained by Kaydee Richmond, director of special projects for the Ontario PC caucus. She announced the principles, timelines, and technical details of how the party will prepare its platform for the next provincial election. Richmond said that the policy development process needed to be “modern, inclusive, ongoing, and ours.” She explained that the new process would be modern by using “new technologies to reach more people.” It would be inclusive because “there is no monopoly on a good idea,” and thus would be non-partisan. She said the PCs needed to “talk to whomever we need to get Ontario back on track.” The process would be on-going to “be in touch more, to listen, to get to know real Ontarians.” Richmond also said it was part of “thinking bigger” than a series of limited one-off meetings.
Describing what she meant by the process being “ours” – meaning the PC membership – it had to be available to people beyond the backroom advisers. “Policy comes off the rails,” she said, when the grassroots are not involved, implicitly referring to John Tory’s funding of religious schools in 2007 and Tim Hudak’s promise to cut 100,000 government jobs in the 2014 campaign, both of which get blamed for PC losses.
Phase one of the new process is already under way and will continue through June 2016. The party has launched a new website, ForOntario.ca, which lists 16 priority areas including health, housing, justice, municipal issues, social services, seniors and long-term care, education, and the environment. The website, described as “a consultation tool,” also has sections for people to include input on policy areas not listed. Richmond said everyone’s concerns will be heard.
The website will be open to both party members and the general public, meaning voters do not need to buy a membership to provide input.
Phase two, “find solutions,” begins in July and lasts until the policy convention next March, which will be co-chaired by former candidate Kevin Gaudet. Looking at the input from the party through the ForOntario website, the next stage will examine how to address the province’s economic problems, healthcare, law and justice, and other issues. The party will continue to seek feedback from party members through regional meetings.
Leader Patrick Brown says the consultation process will have no limits on what policy areas will have input. He said “everyone is welcome” to let the Progressive Conservative party know what issues they care about and how to address them.
MPP Monte McNaughton (Lambton—Kent—Middlesex) told The Interim he was happy with the new process. McNaughton ran for leader last year against Brown and Christine Elliott, vowing to open up the policy process to the full membership and out of the hands of the backroom advisers. McNaughton said Brown “is very sincere in his approach to listening to people” and the website and process prove that. He also said he was happy that the party is employing “21st century technology to reach out to as many people” as possible. McNaughton encouraged everyone to use the ForOntario website to let the party know what they care about: “all voices matter.”
Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, who was a delegate at the convention says the process “appears to be more open,” but is worried that the party could still manipulate the outcome of the discussions. However, he emphasized that even if that is the case, “we can let Patrick Brown and the Progressive Conservative Party know that there is large number of pro-life and pro-family voters in Ontario who demand their concerns be taken seriously.”
CLC is still strategizing on what advice to give its supporters in terms of specific policies to promote, although Gunnarson said “obvious policy areas include defunding abortion, conscience rights for doctors and health professionals, school choice, and rescinding the sex-ed curriculum.”
Also at the convention, former CFL star Michael “Pinball” Clemons gave a motivational-style talk, bouncing among the audience and on top of chairs. Clemons said of politics, “This is not a power play. It’s a people play,” and QP Briefing’s Brian Platt observed on Twitter that, “Pinball’s speech is basically slogans like this piled one after another for 40 minutes.”
Clemons said the PCs had to show respect for LGBQT community, women, visible minorities, and Liberals. He then qualified his statement: “Don’t have to agree. But respect is fundamental.”
In other news, the Tories also announced they would open nominations for the next election in January 2017, about 18 months ahead of voting day. Brown announced the party would bring in a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The party also revealed its rebranded logo.