The oxymoronic term "Progressive Conservative" sounds like taking one step forward and one step back, which really means going nowhere. That's not exactly what Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party had done for the last four elections. Based on the party's inept leadership and their uncanny ability to alienate voters as Official Opposition, Ontario's PC's have had their gear set firmly in reverse. It was so bad that the worst governments in the province's history, under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, still managed to hold on to power because the Progressive Conservatives offered such unappealing alternatives.
That may change, depending on the outcome of the Ontario PC's leadership election, which is taking place this week. The two candidates, Christine Elliott and Patrick Brown, represent very different visions for the future of the party. Only one of the two has a vision that I believe will finally defeat the unethical, incompetent Ontario Liberals in the next election.
I have never been a member of a provincial political party before, though I am and have been a member of the federal Liberal Party, off-and-on, since I was a teenager. It takes a lot for me to make that commitment. I rejoined the Liberals to support Marc Garneau, because I knew Justin Trudeau would be a disaster for the Liberal Party and the country. My one membership wasn't enough to do anything about that disaster. I joined the Ontario Progressive Conservatives recently because this province desperately needs an effective opposition.
Brown is the federal MP for Barrie and has committed to ushering in a brand new way of doing things for the PC's, including shaking up the bureaucratic leadership. In his case, that pledge is plausible, particularly in light of the outright hostility and fear the current PC bureaucracy is showing at the prospect of his winning.
Elliott, on the other hand, seem to think that winning involves invoking the names of successful Progressive Conservatives from the past, and saying she'll get Ontario's economic house in order, but leave Kathleen Wynne's "progressive" spending and social engineering policies in place.
The two names Elliott frequently invokes are Bill Davis and Mike Harris. Davis was a great Premier for his time. However thirty years ago, Ontario was a very different place. Davis was one of the great architects of Ontario's education system; a tremendous achievement, but one with a shaky foundation. One of the terrible legacies Davis left for the province was his decision to fully-fund Catholic schools until the end of high school, giving preference to one religious group over all others. That was unfair for everyone else and ultimately bad for Catholic education, since by taking money from the government's outstretched hand, Catholic schools had to become less Catholic and include the government's social agenda in their curriculum.
Mike Harris was a foul politician in every sense. He imposed amalgamation on the City of Toronto and its suburbs, flouting the democratic wishes of its citizens, which voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to reject it. That's because Harris didn't care the least about urban Ontario. He made the cold, cynical calculation that he could screw over the cities, particularly Toronto, to win enough rural votes to win a majority. He was correct in his calculations, but that doesn't make it right. Harris then went on to bleed the cities, downloading services previously paid by the province onto them so he could say he was was spending less. Yes, Harris' governments spent less, but the taxpayers started having to pay more, since they were put at the mercies of the corrupt bunglers running municipal governments. Part of Harris' legacy was creating such lasting bitterness towards the Progressive Conservatives that the party hasn't won a general election since he resigned as Premier.
Particularly worrisome is that Elliott is a supporter of Kathleen Wynne's depraved social experiment, a Sex Ed curriculum, the architect of which is a convicted pedophile, that introduces highly sexualized content to children at an inappropriately young age. Whether Elliott is sincere in the belief that such content is needed in the curriculum, or if she simply lacks the courage to stand up to the name-calling by Kathleen Wynne's Liberals towards any of its opponents is unimportant. Either scenario suggests she would make a poor leader.
If Ontario's PC's revert to a combination of poor leadership and promoting an implementation of Christine Elliott's version of watered-down Kathleen Wynne policies, it could eliminate any effective opposition in Ontario for a generation.
Patrick Brown promises something different. His experience on the federal level represents inclusiveness with Ontario's diverse population that the provincial party hasn't been able to achieve. His fiscal policies are sound. He isn't antagonistic to non-political public service unions, like those of the firefighters and nurses, simply because they are unions. And Brown is committed to revising education in Ontario to focus on the basics of reading, science and math, rather than the half-dozen supposed gender identities Kathleen Wynne and Christine Elliott feel children should have as part of their schooling. Reshaping the party and forming an effective opposition are critical if the PC's hope to win an election, and Brown represents a break from the past that is much more credible than Christine Elliott's promise of "change."
Ontario could have had real change years ago if the PC's had found a different leader than Tim Hudak, someone with zero political instincts and all the charm of a jack-in-the-box popping out in a child's dark, quiet bedroom at 3 am.
The Progressive Conservatives have a choice this week to pick someone who can lead to bring about a new direction in Ontario, or someone who seems to want to lead because they think they are entitled to lead. Ontario needs a new direction, and that's why I voted for Patrick Brown.
Cross-posted at The Rebel