Pro-life MPP Frank Klees finishes strong second

The early frontrunner for the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership ended up winning, but the pro-life evangelical who finished second surprised many both in and out of the party.

NEW PC leader Tim Hudak has vowed to eliminate the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

NEW PC leader Tim Hudak has vowed to eliminate the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

On the eve of the June 27 announcement at the leadership convention in Markham, one news broadcast said that the convention would crown either MPP Tim Hudak or Christine Elliott, effectively writing off MPPs Frank Klees and Randy Hillier. The pundits said from the beginning that Hudak was the early favourite, but after membership sales and fundraising totals started coming in, Elliott was considered running nose to nose with Hudak, while Klees appeared to be in the thick of things, but continued to be dismissed by the so-called experts.

In May, Klees (Newmarket-Aurora) was endorsed by Campaign Life Coalition and his campaign acknowledged that without the support of Catholic and evangelical pro-lifers, he could not have finished second.

It was basically a foregone conclusion that Hillier (Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington), a vocal opponent of the Ontario Human Rights Commission who vowed to eliminate both the commission and its tribunal, would be the first eliminated in the preferential balloting that took place in the week before the convention.

The official count took place in the basement of the Hilton Suites in Markham and lasted throughout Friday night. When the first ballot results were announced Saturday morning, Hillier was eliminated. He had garnered 10 per cent of the “points” allotted through a complex system that distributed points based on the percentage of votes a candidate received in each riding. Hudak (Erie-Lincoln) had 34 per cent of the points, followed closely by Klees with 30 per cent and Elliott (Whitby-Ajax), who garnered 26 per cent.

Frank Klees ran a strong campaign and surprised many when he finished a close second.

Frank Klees ran a strong campaign and surprised many when he finished a close second.

Hillier was dropped from the ballot and the votes counted again, with his supporters’ second pick on the preferential ballot being redistributed. According to sources who witnessed the count, most of Hillier’s supporters backed Hudak, because he also ran on a promise of curtailing the power of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. However, there just weren’t enough Hillier supporters to put Hudak over the top. Nor could Elliott make up the difference separating her and Klees. Hudak had 40 per cent, followed by Klees (32 per cent) and Elliott (28 per cent).

Before the final ballot was announced around 5 p.m. – an hour before the evening news broadcasts – Elliott supporters could be heard complaining in the halls of the convention centre that they finished behind Klees. Their disbelief was matched only by the disdain in their voices.

Elliott, the most socially liberal of the four leadership contenders, had criticized Hillier and Hudak for bringing up the issue of the human rights commission, claiming that talking about abolishing it was an election loser. Klees expressed similar sentiments, but also introduced a private member’s motion seeking to limit the ability of tribunals to violate rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Still, many in Elliot’s campaign viewed Klees as too right-wing, too pro-life and out of touch with the centrist membership prominent in the party during the Ernie Eves and John Tory years to which she was appealing.

On the surprisingly close final ballot, featuring an unexpected finalist (Klees), Hudak won with just 54.7 per cent of the points.

PC officials and the Hudak campaign were quick to talk up party unity, but in an unusual move, Klees in his concession speech reminded Hudak not to neglect the constituencies that did not support the eventual winner. It was clear that included among those were the pro-life voters who backed Klees, as well as the various ethnic groups in Scarborough and the 905 region with which the Klees campaign had made inroads.

Campaign Life Coalition in its August newsletter is reminding the party that the shift to the left under Ernie Eves and John Tory resulted in the relegation of the Progressive Conservatives to the opposition benches. CLC also notes that it is unclear in what direction Hudak will lead the PCs on life and family issues. In 1995 and 1999, Hudak signed a CLC questionnaire, with the organization rating him “pro-life with exceptions.”

He endorsed pro-life petitions and brought them forth at Queen’s Park. But since the 1999 election, Hudak has been curiously silent on social issues (except the human rights commission during this past campaign) and has refused to sign the CLC candidates’ questionnaire twice, as well as the CLC PC leadership questionnaire this past spring. One Tory strategist noted his silence on social issues coincides with his marriage to Deb Hutton, a party strategist who worked within Mike Harris’s inner circle alongside noted social liberals Tom Long and Leslie Noble, both of whom joined their former boss in backing Hudak’s leadership bid.

As LifeSiteNews’s Steve Jalsevac reported, Hudak probably won some social conservative support with his campaign against the OHRC (just as Klees certainly lost some social conservative support with his perceived defence of the commission). CLC reminded supporters that while the promise to scrap the most offensive parts of the human rights commission was laudable, it could not substitute for a broader pro-life and pro-family agenda.

The party has a process in place leading up to a policy convention in 2010 that allows its membership to provide input. Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes told The Interim that pro-life PC supporters should not disengage from the party, but remain involved in both the policy process and the nomination of candidates at the riding level.

Hughes said if the Progressive Conservatives are going to improve on their standing in the October 2011 elections, “they must not neglect the natural, social conservative base of the party” and provide “real, distinct policies that protect all human life from the moment of conception/fertilization until natural death, as well as provide exceptionally clear defence of the natural family.”