Winning was the easy part

May 13, 2015   ·   0 Comments

PROBABLY THE GREATEST MYSTERY surrounding the competition for the leadership of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party was the apparent disappearance of 90 per cent of the party’s membership when the race began.

Had the membership rolls stayed at the historic 100,000 level, Patrick Brown’s success in finding about 70,000 Ontarians willing to part with $10 might not have been enough, and all three Ontario parties would have had female leaders with centrist philosophies.

But what Mr. Brown had going for him, apart from having spent 14 of his 36 years in politics, was an acute awareness of the need to campaign everywhere and seek memberships from various communities that had been ignored or deliberately avoided by political leaders.

Among them were the social conservatives seeking to end abortions, stop the introduction of the Liberals’ new sex education curriculum and curtail gay marriage, as well as various immigrant groups whose members had no political affiliations.

Only time will tell how many of the 70,000 “instant Tories” will continue to be active in the party, and to what extent the new PC leader will continue to push their agendas.

Perhaps the most interesting commitment Mr. Brown, Conservative MP for Barrie, has made since his election last Saturday is to announce his plan to resign his seat in the Commons while promising only to seek a seat in the Ontario Legislature no later than the next election, scheduled for 2018.

Could it be that he will opt to leave Jim Wilson as PC House Leader indefinitely, giving him an opportunity to continue criss-crossing the province for the next three years, building a populist movement without having to worry about attendance in the House?

One obvious problem he has is that two of the three Simcoe County seats are held by relatively young MPPs, Mr. Wilson (Simcoe-Grey) and Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North), while Barrie itself has a Liberal member in Ann Hoggarth.

In those circumstances, Mr. Brown might well choose simply to announce a plan to run in Barrie whenever the riding becomes vacant (i.e., when the election writ is issued).

Of course, a preferable alternative would be for him to do what John Tory did after being elected to succeed Ernie Eves as our local MPP – declare his intention to seek a seat close to his home. (Unfortunately for Mr. Tory, the seat chosen was held by Kathleen Wynne.)

Were Mr. Brown to ask either Mr. Wilson or Mr. Dunlop to resign so he could contest a byelection in a safe Tory seat (Simcoe-Grey being at least as safe as Dufferin-Caledon) the deal would be that the incumbent would be able to have the seat back at the 2018 election.

Whichever route the new PC leader chooses, he would be wise to develop the same type of party platform Ms. Elliott would have created – one designed to appeal to uncommitted voters.

Although it’s possible that as a member of the Harper government in Ottawa Mr. Brown will opt to move his party to the right, with a platform calling for deregulation, tax cuts that would favour the well-to-do and more privatization than currently contemplated by the Liberals, history tends to show that Ontarians favour pragmatism over ideology.

Although it’s true that the Mike Harris brand of Toryism won legislative majorities in two elections, the blander version espoused by premiers Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis worked well for four decades, during most of which Ontario voters tended to favour the federal Liberals.

Of course, if that’s the route Mr. Brown chooses to take, Ontario voters would have to choose from among three centrist parties offering similar policies, albeit with leaders and candidates having different profiles.

That might well leave us with minority governments, but recent history suggests that wouldn’t be all that bad.

After all, minority governments tend to listen more to public criticism and not permit the sort of chaos currently being witnessed in our public education system.

Whatever the case, Mr. Brown’s victory ensures a more interesting political scene.

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