In some of the harshest criticism leveled at his own party's elite, Patrick Brown vowed what amounts to a purge of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party's old leadership if he is elected as the party's new standard bearer.
At a campaign stop at a downtown Toronto hotel yesterday morning, referring to the Ontario PC leadership that took the party into the last four general election losses, Brown said, "I'm not going to tweak the party, I'm going to clean house." Without mentioning them by name, Brown continued to level blistering condemnation of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party's current group of strategists and leaders, whom he essentially characterized as out-of-touch and self-interested.
"The one thing they're good at is scoring own-goals," quipped Brown, referring to proposals such as firing 100,000 civil servants and and faith-based education funding the Ontario Conservatives put forward as cornerstones of Tim Hudak and John Tory's respective election platforms, and which had sabotaged the party's hopes of victory.
Brown charged that those policy's were imposed on the party by a leadership which hadn't consulted with the membership base and he maintains if they had, it would have been rejected by them. "Let's face it, being a Progressive Conservative in Ontario was a tough sell the last few elections, and it's understandable why. We have leadership that doesn't listen."
Concern that Ontario's Progressive Conservative policy under Tim Hudak was perceived as merely being blind rejection was a large part of Brown's commitment to policy reform.
"The leadership of the party said they were going to vote against the Liberals budget before they even read it. It's no wonder we have the perception of being a party that just says 'no' all the time, " said Brown. Promising what is reflective of The Third Way approach which was utilized to enormous success by US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Brown committed to use policy ideas from the opposition parties when they served the best interests of the province.
Brown also committed to re-engage with unions that he believes shares the goals and values of the reformed and reinvigorated Progressive Conservative party he hopes to lead. "Nurses, police, and firefighters unions all have great ideas that we should be utilizing in our platform, " Brown told the gathering, committing to try to recruit some of the leaders of those professions' unions as candidates in the next election.
Another issue Brown focused on was education reform. "We need to get back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Kathleen Wynne has only proposed one change to education; to change sex ed to the curriculum that Dalton McGuinty threw out." Brown was referring to the Sex Education curriculum what was created under the direction of Deputy Education Minister Ben Levin which Premier Kathleen Wynne wants to introduce into Ontario schools. The curriculum was widely criticized for introducing graphic sexual content to children at what is considered by many to be the inappropriate ages of 7 and 8. Making the curriculum even more disturbing is that Levin, who was in effect its architect, was criminally charged with a series of child abuse and pornography offenses of which his lawyer recently declared there will be a guilty plea to some.
Continuing on the topic of public education, Brown remarked, "Rather than a focus on sex ed, we should be teaching kids financial literacy and how to balance a chequebook. Skills that they'll need in life." One of the observers at the meeting was then overheard quietly saying that "Kathleen Wynne will never go for that. If we teach kids how to balance a chequebook, by the next election, the average fifth grader will know more about economics than her Finance Minister."
There are five declared candidates for Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party leadership, of whom Brown and Christine Elliott, the popular widow of the late federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, are considered the front runners. Of the five, all are sitting members of the provincial legislature except for Brown, who is currently the federal member of Parliament for Barrie. Framing it a battle between the old guard represented by Elliott and the new represented by him, Brown said that the provincial party needs to take a cue from the federal conservatives who have successfully engaged with the diverse ethnic communities in Ontario, something at which the Ontario Tories have failed so far.
"I've been all across the province, speaking to every one of our rich and diverse community groups, " Brown told the small crowd. "We can't just be the party of angry old white men. If we're going to win, we have to not just preach to those already in the tent, but reach out to everyone in the province."