The Ontario Progressive Party took another step in rebuilding itself with its recent General Meeting (GM) held between March 4- 6. Close on the heels of its by-election victory in Whitby-Oshawa where it grew its margin of victory for that seat over the results from the 2014 general election, the party sought to reintroduce its new leader Patrick Brown. In a carefully orchestrated address to convention delegates, Brown outlined his renewed vision for the Ontario PC Party, and laid the framework for a grassroots policy process leading into the next general election. According to the latest provincial polling averages (aggregated by threehundredeight.com), the Ontario PCs currently enjoy 40 per cent support, followed by the Liberals at 24 per cent and the NDP at 24 per cent. However, it should be noted that previous provincial conservative leaders enjoyed strong support in the polls before losing in the general election.
During his address, it became clear that Patrick Brown’s strategy for the next general election begins with a commitment to a rebranded PC party – one that embraces more inclusive, compassionate, and pragmatic thinking in an effort to make the Ontario PCs more palatable to a wider spectrum of voters, including progressives. This rebranding was evident throughout the convention, with the release of a new Party logo on Saturday.
Another highlight was that former CFL player and philanthropist Michael “Pinball” Clemons addressed the convention, which caused some to retell the age-old rumour that he could be a political candidate. Brown has said that he will be looking to attract a number of star candidates for the anticipated 2018 general election.
Additionally, the party elected the executive board, voted on internal constitutional amendments, and held closed training sessions for members. There were no policy discussions held at the GM.
Ontario PC Policy Development Process
At the General Meeting, Brown claimed that the Ontario PCs would be embarking on the largest, most inclusive policy development process ever undertaken in the country. The party unveiled ForOntario.ca, which provides individuals with the opportunity to participate in the policy consultation process.
It is anticipated that Brown will be holding a provincial tour over the next several months to facilitate greater input from members. The policy development process is expected to culminate in specific policy direction to be even further fleshed out at the next meeting a year from now.
These policy development initiatives are typical for a new leader. However, Brown could be under some pressure to adapt policy from the grassroots given his commitment to do so, in apparent contrast to the previous administration.
New Direction Highlights Party Divisions
Despite the well-attended convention, there has been some internal criticism, particularly as it relates to the party’s direction on issues such as climate change and labour policies. Brown voiced his support for action on climate change at the convention, proposing that the Ontario PCs take a harder look at carbon pricing policies that would be revenue neutral and ensure independent oversight. Immediately, there were some dissenters that could be heard in the audience. There are also party interests that are cautious of Brown’s extensive outreach to labour organizations.
For Brown to be successful, he will need to delicately manage the traditional right-wing faction of the party, while appealing to progressive voters with new, more pragmatic thinking. It is anticipated that he will continue to meet with members from that faction of the party to reassure them, and provide them with small, specific political wins, although not at the expense of the centre-right and progressive vote.
Over the next several months, we will begin to see Patrick Brown shift his attention from his current role, to be seen as a Premier in waiting.