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Monday, March 2, 2015

Patrick Brown victory on May 9 means eight more years of political irrelevance for PCs

The deadline has passed for signing up new Ontario Progressive Conservative party members who will be eligible to cast a preferential ballot in the one-member, one-vote election on May 9.

Early reports following the cut-off are far from encouraging when one considers that, in the past, the winning PC leadership candidates have been the ones who sold the most party memberships.

Consider that, in this leadership contest, new members will outnumber “old” members by about six to one. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect that the candidate who has signed up the most members will have a decided advantage on voting day. For me, this spells bad news indeed as my preferred candidate, MPP Christine Elliott (Whitby-Oshawa), is reported to be well behind federal backbencher, Barrie MP Patrick Brown, in this numbers game.

Apparently, the PC party has fallen short of what I thought was a reasonable goal of 100,000 members—a tenfold increase over the membership roster at the start of the leadership campaign. Early reports claim membership at the cut-off to be 70,000, some 40,000 of which appear to have been sold by Brown, and only about 26,000 by Elliott. (Elliott won’t release her numbers until the party has processed membership forms and eliminated duplicated and disqualified submissions.)

These figures are surprising, to say the least, since Elliott has been the party establishment’s clear choice with the backing of 17 of the 28-member PC caucus at Queen’s Park and 25 federal MPs. Elliott seemed to have the clearest path to victory.

The field of candidates is weak, though, and was so even when MMPs Lisa MacLeod and Vic Fedeli were still in the race.

Monte McNaughton, the least-likely-to-succeed candidate, has little or no appeal outside the relatively small hard-core social conservative members of the party. And Patrick Brown—the only candidate without a seat at Queen’s Park—is a little-known federal backbencher who seems to have accomplished little in his almost 10 years in Ottawa.

From my perspective, as Patrick Brown’s prospects improve, the fortunes of the Ontario PC party declines, for I don’t see how he improves our prospects beyond those we had under Tim Hudak. I find neither McNaughton or him inspiring, nor do I see enough difference between their politics and the past two PC election platforms to give rise to my hope of another Ontario PC government in my lifetime.

What Brown’s supporters see in someone who has accomplished as little in Ottawa as he has is beyond me. Brown has not even committed to running provincially if he loses his leadership bid—at least, he would not commit to do so when asked during the last leaders’ debate. Apparently, this career politician sees his future as either an Ontario legislature frontbencher, i.e., party leader, or he’s prepared to return to relative obscurity as an Ottawa Tory backbencher.

With Christine Elliott I saw hope for real change in the Party’s fortunes. Her politics—at least my perception of them—do differ from Hudak’s.  Classic progressive conservatism is supposed to be at the heart of our party’s core beliefs. Why else would party founders have chosen a name that seems to be self-contradictory?

In recent elections, the Ontario PCs have run on a right-wing platform, not even giving lip service to policies that would be consistent with the “progressive” part of its name. And this I believe has been a mistake. As I have written before:

Many famous statesmen—dare I say conservative statesmen—have been proud to have their names associated with progressive conservatism, including Benjamin Disraeli, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, David Cameron, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower and many federal PC prime ministers who represented Canada’s conservative movement prior to Stephen Harper.

“Progressive need not be a dirty word. Nor is—as is claimed by some hard-right conservatives—progressive conservatism an oxymoron. Progressivism may very well be corrosive when deployed by left-wing parties, but that need not be an automatic consequence.”

Being a progressive conservative is not the same as being a Liberal, although a successful political party in Ontario needs to attract votes from both centre-left and centre-right where most Liberals reside on the political spectrum. Nor do we need to be at war with union members and those sympathetic to the union movement, for many union members and sympathisers in the private sector are as upset as other PCs are about overly-generous wages and benefits of their public sector counterparts and want to see some common sense applied.

Ontario’s PC party has become so closely identified with right-wing (rather than centre-right) politics that its members are often referred to in the media simply as “conservatives” as if the federal party and the provincial party were indistinguishable. To be sure, the parties share policies, membership, volunteers, etc., and the federal party—the direct successor of the right-wing populist Reform Party of Canada—has borrowed much from former premier Bill Davis’s progressive conservative style of governing.

I would say, in fact, despite its right-wing reputation in the media, the federal Conservatives govern more like a traditional Canadian-style PC government than did former PC premier Mike Harris or, I suspect, Tim Hudak would have done, judging by Hudak’s two election campaign platforms.

In Christine Elliott, I see a chance to return to a common sense approach with core conservative values informing our fiscal policy and a progressive approach to programs such as health care, education, public transit, mental health and ecology.

That’s my dream, but a dream I fear that is fading with the prospect of a Patrick Brown victory on May 9 followed by eight more years of political irrelevance for our party.

10 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. Fully concur. As a former Progressive Conservative, I am tired of those demanding ideological purity and telling anyone who isn't ideological pure they need to join the Liberals. The reality is big tent Conservative parties like you have now in Alberta and Saskatchewan are the types who win, not ones that demand rigid ideology. In terms of Red Tories like Joe Clark, John Tory, or Bill Davis, the PCs definitely need to include people like them although the party shouldn't be solely made up of them either. And for those comparing to the US, we are not the United States and besides if Ontario was a US state it would be a solid blue state like Massachusetts, New York, or California not a swing state like Ohio, Michigan, or Wisconsin and in the former the GOP rarely wins and when it does, its when they are moderate like under Arnold Schwartznegger, Michael Bloomberg etc.

    As for the Ontario PCs, Christine Elliott may not be perfect but as described above she is head and shoulder above either Patrick Brown or Monte McNaughton. The good news is I suspect Vic Fidelli and Lisa McLeod signed up several members so Christine Elliott can win amongst them as well as Patrick Brown may have signed up several using the federal Tory list, but that doesn't mean they will all vote for him. Choosing Elliott doesn't guarantee the PCs will win, but she is certainly strong enough to give the Liberals a good challenge. And more importantly if the Liberals think they are unbeatable they will be less careful and more likely to adopt bad policies, whereas if they fear they could lose in 2018, we will get better policies. Finally I believe each riding has equal weight so that might help as signing up a lot of members in a few Tory strongholds won't win the leadership, you need to do well also in ridings where their membership is weaker and I suspect of the GTA ridings which is over 40% of the province, Elliott will come out in front in the vast majority of them.

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    1. Well said, Anon. I agree on all points.

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  2. The PCs are massively in debt. If Brown wins the leadership I say that the timing couldn't be better for a new party. A right wing party with progressive ideas. Brown's party, saddled with debt and unpopular ideas, will be wiped out. And the population will finally have a good alternative to the Liberals, something they have been desperate for for many elections. The time is right!

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    1. Who knows? Could very well come to that, but I doubt it will.

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    2. My worry if this happens is it usually takes a few election cycles before a new party becomes competitive so I am worried this could mean at least another decade of Liberal rule. The only way I could see this working is if Tory MPPs defect en masse (say over 20 of them) much like the Wildrose Party MLAs did in Alberta in which case the new party would be the defacto official opposition.

      Too bad we don't have like BC or UK one mainstream centre-right option and one for the few nut bars (mainstream centre-right being BC Liberals and British Conservatives; while nut bars BC Conservatives and UKIP: and note the BC Liberals despite their name are not a liberal party, but a big tend pro free enterprise coalition).

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    3. There seems very little appetite for a unite the centre-right option like there is in Quebec and BC.

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  3. "Fully concur. As a former Progressive Conservative, I am tired of those demanding ideological purity and telling anyone who isn't ideological pure they need to join the Liberals." ~first anon,

    Adhering to basic conservative principles which have served the party well while governing, and only beginning to lose as they would waffle on those fiscal convictions or lose steam while being sabotaged by other levels of government. As it has also happened to the Federal Conservatives getting their budgets dragged down by several socialistic premiers from Dalton to Stelmach!

    "[...]Wisconsin and in the former the GOP rarely wins and when it does, its when they are moderate like under Arnold Schwartznegger, Michael Bloomberg etc."-same anon,

    Blooberg was hardly a moderate but a big government statist! Have you been under a rock? You're perspective is entirely based on appearances and media hype instead of substance or fact. Joe Clark and John Tory have long been exposed as political lightweights at best and leftwing* progressive infils at worst.
    John Tory just got elected as the defacto liberal candidate for mayor of Toronto. Had you of even paid attention...
    And by liberal I don't mean in the good classical sense but as a modern progressive.

    "Russ CampbellMarch 3, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Well said, Anon. I agree on all points."

    Exactly... This is why you lose.

    *It is very worth while to be a right wing partisan. Progressives move along with the ever shifting goal posts of populist socialism, not for the political survival of conservatism through adaption, but by abiding to political correctness and appeasement of the dominate ruling class of the day.

    Do any of you even know what the "right wing" North Americans are trying to conserve?
    It's rhetorical, given from your statements thus far, you all seem incapable of answering correctly.

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    1. Such strong, self righteous opinions, Anon, yet all expressed under the cloak of anonymity. Such a pity, such a lack of courage, or is it simply a matter of lack of self confidence?

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  4. "I would say, in fact, despite its right-wing reputation in the media, the federal Conservatives govern more like a traditional Canadian-style PC government than did former PC premier Mike Harris or, I suspect, Tim Hudak would have done, judging by Hudak’s two election campaign platforms." -Russ

    A good influential chunk the Federal Conservatives was made up of former Harris Government MPPs. They aren't "progressive" but rather pragmatic instrumentalist. Also aware that giving up government to the other parties would do more damage them taking a more mild and drawn out approach.
    This is a socialist leaning country full of mostly economically illiterate voters.
    No major fixes or reforms can happen until the population gives a clearer mandate to do so. Not electing Hudak was a bad signal to send.

    The reason the PC's lost the last Ontario election had to do with a silent and useless campaign team & party establishment that let Hudak's remarks and rebuttals go unheard. The establishment was eager to backstab whoever won given that their "CHOSEN" candidate did not win... I wonder who that could of been?

    They kept promoting the campaign as being all about Hudak but then won't back him up over the 100,000 jobs cut THROUGH ATTRITION.
    They allowed the media spin to dominate that and other points.
    So what Hudak wasn't charismatic, he knew what was needed to get the province back on track and had the can do attitude to see it done.

    Yes he took some ill advice from Americans who aren't aware of our electoral demographics or political sensitivities, given how demonized the Harris government was by the left and media.

    Come to think of it, the unions that rallied against Harris would of been much better off had they accept the governments terms then rather then kicking the can down the fiscal cliff for which they will have to dive from to save it.

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    1. Your words: "The establishment was eager to backstab whoever won given that their 'CHOSEN' candidate did not win... I wonder who that could of been?"

      To what are you referring? And who the heck are you?

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