Editor’s Note: In the days immediately after this article was published in the print edition of Update, former PC Leader Patrick Brown has entered the leadership race in an effort to regain the position from which he resigned in January. Tanya Granic Allen, a prominent voice in social conservative circles, has also entered the race. Subsequent issues of Update will provide further news and analysis of Ontario’s political landscape in advance of the June provincial election.
Brown’s Resignation Changes Ontario Political Landscape
The stunning sexual misconduct allegations that led to the resignation of Patrick Brown as the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Party have dramatically changed the political landscape in advance of the June 7 provincial election.
Prior to Brown’s resignation, the three main political parties had spent the previous months crafting their electoral strategy. On the heels of the Conservative Policy Convention last November, the Tories were portraying themselves as steady fiscal managers of Ontario’s treasury, and signaled no intention of altering the province’s long-standing social policy positions on issues like marriage equality or abortion rights. Brown was making every effort to present himself as the antithesis of previous PC leader Tim Hudak, and to remove any opportunity for the Ontario Liberals to frame him as a rabid fiscal and social conservative. In fact, Brown was carefully defining himself as the anti-Kathleen Wynne candidate who could give Ontarians hope without much risk.
Despite Brown’s assertions, the Liberals were still planning to attack him as a right-wing ideologue who would upset the fiscal and social terrain. The Liberals wanted to concentrate on Brown’s ten years as a Conservative Member of Parliament in Stephen Harper’s government, who spent his time attacking LGBTQ causes and abortion rights. As well, they wanted Ontarians to understand that Brown won the provincial leadership primarily through his contacts in the social conservative political community. Raising fears about a PC leader’s policies has been an effective Liberal strategy for a number of elections in Ontario, and many Liberals felt it could have been successful against Brown.
As for the New Democratic Party, Andrea Horwath’s team was planning to present the NDP as the better alternative for voters intent on ousting Kathleen Wynne. While Brown’s removal has changed that dynamic, for the New Democrats the plan remains the same. They need to convince Ontarians looking for change that whoever the PC leader is, the New Democrats are the better alternative.
With the election of a new PC leader, the political landscape will be altered. All three declared PC leadership candidates—Christine Elliott, Doug Ford and Caroline Mulroney—have positives and negatives. While some may view former MPP Christine Elliott as an uninspiring and dull choice for leader, she does present as soft-spoken, reasonable and even-tempered. And her experience as a parliamentarian coupled with her recent tenure as Ontario’s Patient Advocate, a position to which she was appointed by Kathleen Wynne, will make it challenging for anyone to see her as outside of Ontario’s political mainstream. Ontarians may come to accept her as a safe alternative to Wynne, and someone who won’t cause major disruption to Ontario’s political culture.
Doug Ford’s outspoken manner will be a lightning rod for supporters and detractors alike. While Ford may have the greatest ability to mobilize a sizeable part of the electorate, it’s possible that even more will mobilize against him. His candidacy is sure to wreak havoc and lead to a polarized electorate. That could work to the Liberals’ advantage if they can convince voters that they are the only ones who can stop Ford Nation.
As for Caroline Mulroney, her candidacy opens many questions. Despite being the daughter of one of the most unpopular, if not the most unpopular, Prime Ministers in Canada’s history, she has never been elected to a political office, and has no experience as a candidate. But while some might think it hubris that this inexperienced individual aspires to the top job, others will see a lawyer and mother of four who presents herself as an inspiring choice for women who can both juggle family and maintain a career. The fact that she chooses to send all of her children to private schools may not matter to some Ontarians, but to others it will reinforce the image of a privileged elitist who is out-of-touch with the common person.
PC members will choose their new leader on March 10, and we’ll know what Ontarians think of that choice when the ballots are counted on June 7.