In a year-end interview with Andrew Lawton of London’s AM980, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown was unambiguous about where social conservatives stand in the party: he “will not tolerate” pro-life or pro-family views within the party.

Brown told Lawton, “I have encouraged more free votes … but what I will not tolerate, is, is, we are going to have a very strict focus on fiscal issues (sic). If someone is going to push a specific social issue, it will not be welcome … it will not be condoned.” He added, “If you want to push a specific religious agenda in the provincial legislature, well this is not part of my agenda.” Brown said candidates and MPPs would not be allowed to reopen “divisive social issues.”

The interview came days after the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star independently reported that the Progressive Conservative Party under Brown has been disqualifying socially conservative candidates from nominations. The Citizen reported that Derek Duval was rejected as a PC candidate in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell and the Star reported that Jay Tysick was denied the right to run in Carleton. Both are Ottawa-area ridings. Tysick was quoted in the Star saying, “I’m pretty sure if Sam (Oosterhoff) hadn’t won … they wouldn’t have been looking at mine (nomination) so closely.”

Oosterhoff won the PC nomination in Niagara-West Glanbrook in October over party president Rick Dykstra on the strength of support in several Christian churches due to his pro-life and pro-family views. Oosterhoff then won the by-election in November, and Brown faced questions from the Queen’s Park press gallery on whether or not the PCs had a hidden agenda. Brown chose to lash out at social conservatives despite the fact he courted them in the leadership contest and had a pro-life and pro-family voting record as a federal MP. Since becoming leader in May 2015 he has sought to position the party as socially liberal, marching in Toronto’s Pride Parade, repudiating his own voting record, and flip-flopping on rescinding the sex-ed curriculum. Brown says the party will be inclusive, tolerant, and embrace diversity.

Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim, “Brown’s actions are not inclusive or tolerant and they do not embrace the diversity of the Progressive Conservative Party.” He says there are many pro-life and pro-family MPPs, staff, and members of the PC Party, estimating that fully 40 per cent of the party’s base is socially conservative. A Compass poll put the number closer to 30 per cent, but either way, that is a significant segment of the party.

Brown spun the disqualifications — mainstream media report at least five candidates have been disqualified as of mid-December and CLC is not publicizing who or how many candidates they are working with in the nominations — as a positive. The Canadian Press reported the leader saying, “we’ve had more interested candidates than we’ve ever had before” and that “speaks to that appetite for change that there is in the province.” He said because there are more individuals running for nomination, there would naturally be more candidates disqualified. Asked if candidates are specifically rejected for holding socially conservative views, Brown deflected: “there’s a variety of things a candidate can be disqualified for,” and pointedly refused to say whether social conservatism was one reason. “That’s an internal process,” he explained, adding he doesn’t comment on internal party matters.

Gunnarson said Brown’s comments on Lawton’s radio show “proves the PCs are disqualifying candidates for not sharing the leader’s newfound socially liberal worldview.”

Faith Goldy of Rebel Media said Brown “systemically rejects socons in nomination battles … while at the same time allowing actual Liberals to run” under the PC banner, noting that Urz Heer, a Muslim supporter of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal leadership bid in 2012, was rejected by the local riding association but reinstated by Patrick Brown. (Heer later lost her nomination in Mississauga Centre.)

Brown has also pressured sitting members of his own caucus. After it was revealed that MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Essex) told the Canadian Christian Association and Canadian Multicultural Care Group that a PC government would address “social issues” — “we need to form government, then watch us go” — he was forced to apologize and rescind his comments. “I retract and apologize for my comments of last week,” Nicholls said in a statement. “I fully support the direction the leader is taking our party.”

Gunnarson said that Brown and his advisers “seem to be ignorant about many people who hold socially conservative views.” He said most people who want to uphold traditional family values or talk about protecting the preborn, also care about other issues such as health, education, security, and taxes, and that Brown is wrong to dismiss them as single-issue candidates or single-issue voters. But he warned that Brown could be alienating many people who are most motivated by moral issues which will cost him and his party a chance at forming the government in 2018.