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BLIZZARD

Time for Ontario Tories to choose their future

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

Ontario PC leadership candidates, Christine Elliott and Patrick Brown, square off on a television debate, with Steve Paikin, at TVO, in Toronto on April 30, 2015. (Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun)

Ontario PC leadership candidates, Christine Elliott and Patrick Brown, square off on a television debate, with Steve Paikin, at TVO, in Toronto on April 30, 2015. (Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

Old guard or new guard?

 

Red Tory or Blue Tory?

Male or female?

Liberal light or pragmatic Conservative?

Decisions, decisions.

There couldn’t be a sharper contrast between candidates as 80,000-plus Progressive Conservatives start voting for their new leader Sunday.

It’s a two-way choice between Barrie MP Patrick Brown, the young go-getter who’s shocked the party with his ability to sell thousands of memberships in cultural communities where the Tories had few supporters in the past.

Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott is seen as the establishment candidate. She has the support of most of the Queen’s Park caucus as well as former Toronto councillor and former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug.

The second vote is on Thursday with the results announced at their convention Saturday.

In a feisty exchange at a TVO debate Thursday, the two sparred over issues such as the sex-ed curriculum and the party’s abysmal showing last election.

Brown brings a fresh face to the provincial party.

He has none of the baggage from last year’s disastrous vote.

Many federal Tories are frustrated that their provincial counterparts have had four failed election outings — and three leaders — since the Mike Harris years.

While Elliott and Brown present very different visions of where the party is going, both are strong candidates.

This is Elliott’s second run for the leadership. She ran and lost to Tim Hudak in 2009.

Brown brings energy, focus and the kind of organizational skills the Tories are going to need to rebuild the party.

This is make or break time for the party. After the June election, membership had dipped to less than 10,000.

At a TVO debate taped Thursday, the battle was whether the party should return to its small and large C conservative roots or take on what Elliott called, the “fiscal conservatism with social compassion,” of the Bill Davis era.

Brown made the point that running as what he called, “Liberal Light,” hasn’t worked for the party in the past. The party should be unafraid to return to its Conservative roots.

If voters want to elect a Liberal, they’ll vote for Kathleen Wynne.

The other key point he made is that if the Tories don’t make a breakthrough in the GTA, they will never form government.

That means reaching out to the cultural communities where he’s established deep roots in the years he’s chaired Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s GTA caucus.

“You’re dead on arrival in the city of Toronto if you don’t understand that you have to recognize this city is a cultural mosaic and most cultural communities share our values,” he told me in an interview last week.

That’s a pivotal point the party must grapple with to survive.

Tory strength right now is in rural Ontario and you can’t form government unless you win urban seats.

While Elliott is the emotional favourite with the party establishment, Brown brings a fresh way of doing things.

He doesn’t have a seat but opportunities could open up. With a federal election this fall, it’s possible one or two MPPs could decide to quit and run for a spot in Ottawa.

It’s an advantage to bring in fresh blood to rejuvenate a party that’s in crisis.

If Tories keep choosing leaders from their shallow, 28-seat gene pool at Queen’s Park, it will become an exercise in shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

While both candidates bring a lot to the table, what the Tories need now is shock and awe.

They need a shake-up.

Brown is a tireless organizer. He’s impressed long-time party members with his jaw-dropping ability to attract crowds in communities across the province. He counts many NHL hockey players among his friends, and has been able to tap into that as a unique, all-Canadian way of fundraising.

And he speaks good French, something few Tory leaders have done.

There will be no vote at the Saturday convention. The ballots will all be in. The Tory future sealed.

Whoever wins, Tories must put their angry, divisive past behind them on and focus on their real enemy — the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne.

**********

PC leadership candidates Patrick Brown and Christine Elliott taped a showdown at TVO Thursday.

Moderated by The Agenda host Steve Paikin, the slugfest hit the sex-ed curriculum, the Tories’ last failed election outing — and the direction the party’s going. T

Here are a few quotes from the debate:

On why they should be leader:

Christine Elliott: “After four successive election losses, people aren’t even tuning in to what we have to say.”

“I have a seat and we don’t have a lot of time to get ready for the next election. We need to hit the ground running.”

Patrick Brown: “I think it’s an actually advantage that I don’t wear any of the baggage of the last election campaign.

“I wasn’t involved in the last disaster.”

Elliott: (defending why Rob and Doug Ford are supporting her): “I think it’s really important that we don’t draw distinctions between who we want to be members of the party.

“We’re all Progressive Conservatives. We all have a perspective and we all need to make sure we get together under the big blue tent because that’s the only way we are going to win next time.”

Brown: “There are some in our party right now who are saying the only way to beat the Liberals is to be Liberal light.

“I can tell you if you look at history, whenever we have tried to be Liberal Light the voters tend to choose the authentic Liberal.”

Elliott challenged Brown to say where he stood on the sex-ed curriculum.

Brown: I attended the rally. I spoke against the curriculum because I believe although there may be some worthy elements on mental health, my concern with the curriculum was the promised consultation didn’t happen.

“I want to see in the primary grade the focus being on reading, writing and mathematics.”

“I trust families to teach values and I trust the school system to teach science and mathematics.”

On the direction of the party:

Brown: “A lot of Conservatives across the province feel this massive push to the left. This push to become Liberal Light party.

“What’s the point of doing this campaign, what’s the point of door-knocking, and volunteering and raising funds if we simply want to replicate the Liberals?

“We can win as Conservatives. We can win and have the courage of our convictions.”

Elliott: “I totally disagree with that. I think we are proud Progressive Conservatives and that’s where people of Ontario are sitting for the most part. They want to have a government that’s fiscally responsible, of course, because you can’t do anything else without that. But you also have to show that you are socially compassionate.”

 


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