In September, the Ontario Progressive Conservative party chose socially liberal John Tory over two self-described pro-lifers, to be its new leader. But small-c conservatives say that Tory’s social liberalism and unimpressive track record could be liabilities in Ontario’s October 2007 provincial election.

Tory narrowly defeated former finance minister and Whitby-Ajax MPP Jim Flaherty 54 per cent to 46 per cent on the second ballot. Former transportation minister and Oak Ridges MPP Frank Klees scored a surprising 23 per cent of the electoral points in the first ballot, but not enough of his supporters backed Flaherty to put him over the top in the second round.

Klees and Flaherty both also supported choice in education, with Flaherty being a long-time champion of the rights of parents, since he implemented the now-rescinded Education Tuition Tax Credit while he was finance minister under Mike Harris.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes noted that social conservatives demonstrated they were a force within the leadership race. He pointed to the fact that Flaherty and Klees garnered 55 per cent of the first ballot electoral points. Hughes expressed disappointment that so many Klees supporters backed Tory on the second ballot.

But while Tory was able to pull off a victory in the leadership contest, some are wondering whether he will replicate this success in a provincial election. One Progressive Conservative strategist reminded The Interim that Tory has an unimpressive track record. As an adviser to former Ontario premier William Davis, Tory engineered the provincial takeover of Suncorp, which ended up as a financial fiasco for the province.

Tory was campaign manager for Larry Grossman’s losing provincial campaign in 1987 which was the worst showing for the Ontario PC in their history. Tory followed this electoral disaster with an even worse campaign when he managed Kim Campbell’s ill-fated federal campaign in 1993. An election which saw the PC wiped out but for two seats.

Tory’s supporters invariably pointed to “moderation” and “electability” as his most important assets. But as one conservative activist observed, it is noteworthy that many socially liberal PCs said the same thing about Ernie Eves in 2002, 17 months before he led his party into an election that saw them reduced to a mere 24 seats. And as Andrew Coyne points out in a recent column in the National Post, John Tory is the second consecutive Ontario PC Leader to have received the support of the Toronto Star in the leadership contest.

Tory’s “moderation” included support for same-sex “marriage,” a pro-abortion position and ambivalence to educational choice. Indeed, the day after Tory assumed the leadership, EGALE, a gay rights advocacy group, congratulated the new PC leader and thanked the party for choosing a leader sympathetic to their cause.

REAL Women of Canada, however, warned that, “Tory will not have the support of social conservatives” because he crossed the line in supporting same-sex “marriage.” REAL Women questioned the wisdom of ignoring social conservatives – the “bedrock of the party” – in a fruitless search for an insignificant number of homosexual votes.

“By throwing his lot in with the homosexual activists to the detriment of society and the social conservatives within the party,” warned REAL Women’s Gwen Landolt, “Tory has detrimentally affected his electoral chances” and divided “his party over the homosexual issue.”

Family Coalition Party leader Giuseppe Gori told The Interim that the PC voters’ choice of Tory as leader “leaves more political space” for his party, noting that it is the only place for small-c conservatives to park their votes.

Gori said that with Tory at the helm, the PCs have not just abandoned social conservatives, but all conservatives. He referred to Tory’s tepid endorsement of education and medical choice, and tax reduction.

Gori is convinced that the FCP can garner unprecedented support in the next election as it attracts new supporters dissatisfied with the PCs move to the political left.

CLC’s Jim Hughes told The Interim that while he is disappointed with the outcome, it does not ultimately affect his organization’s political strategy of supporting pro-life candidates regardless of party.

Hughes said while it might be more difficult to get voters enthusiastic for local pro-life PCs, CLC has had trouble getting supporters behind pro-life Liberals because of that party’s recent pro-abortion leaders. But Hughes stressed leader and party labels are not as important as close scrutiny of local candidates.