The Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party announced today that backbench Conservative MP Patrick Brown is the new leader of the party. Brown defeated former Deputy PC Party Leader Christine Elliott, MPP, who was considered the frontrunner at the outset of the race.
Brown Now Looking for Provincial Seat
Brown is expected to announce his resignation as a federal MP shortly, and he will be looking for an opportunity to run for provincial parliament. (In fact, he may have to try to create one.) Although Brown is now Ontario PC Party Leader, he will not become the province’s Leader of the Official Opposition until after he is elected and sworn in as an MPP.
Brown’s Immediate & Long-Term Challenges
Brown’s immediate challenge is to unify a party and caucus that he spent considerable time running against, and his longer-term challenge is to convince Ontarians that he could and should be the next Premier of Ontario.
Within the PC Caucus, Brown’s support was limited to former leadership candidate Monte McNaughton (who ended up backing the winning horse, but may have damaged his personal brand during the race), as well as Jack MacLaren, Rick Nicholls, Bob Bailey, and Toby Barrett.
As the new PC Leader transitions into his role, and despite his attacks on party insiders during the leadership election, we anticipate that Brown will draw liberally upon the ranks of the party establishment for his advisers, especially those who date back to his time as president of the (now-defunct) PC Youth Federation and as a vice president of the Ontario PC Party.
While Brown proved during the leadership campaign that he worked harder than any other candidate – and also demonstrated pizazz by enlisting the support of the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – the dynamics of a general provincial election are fundamentally different than a leadership race, and his longer-term challenge is a daunting one.
Elliott Lost on Organization, Perceived Insider Status
Although Elliott was the choice of the party establishment who garnered the most support within the PC Caucus, and although it was Elliott’s second time running for the party’s leadership, Brown beat her decisively on organization. In addition, despite a nearly lifelong association with the provincial and federal parties, Brown successfully positioned himself as the only outsider in the race.
Elliott’s broad popularity and her ability to raise funds proved insufficient at generating new party members. This became apparent after February 28th, the deadline for Ontarians to purchase a party membership and be eligible to vote in the May leadership contest, and it was confirmed today.
Liberals Pleased to Be Running Against Brown
Because they perceived Elliott to be a more formidable opponent in the next general election than Brown, Liberals will be pleased with today’s result. There is, however, truth to the old adage that elections are lost and not won, and, as detailed in our 2015 Budget update, the Wynne government has its own challenges to address between now and October 2018.