By Jonathon Van Maren
My inbox is beginning to fill up with emails from the candidates vying for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, after Patrick Brown was abruptly toppled in the face of sexual misconduct allegations last month. Nearly all of the leadership candidates seem focused on rebuilding the coalitions that Brown destroyed—including reaching out to the party’s social conservative wing, which Patrick Brown had publicly courted, and then publicly stabbed in the back.
It’s no secret that I’m thrilled to see the back of Brown. Should he have been elected premier, he would have sent the message to politicians across the country that conservative voters can be courted during a leadership race, and then loudly screwed over once it seems convenient—and political viability is still possible. I suspect that Brian Jean, who was defeated for the leadership of the United Conservative Party of Alberta by Jason Kenney, was following in Brown’s footsteps and trying the exact same strategy. These are men who have no principles and seek power for its own sake. Indeed, plenty of columnists were doing a serious amount of head-scratching trying to figure out where Patrick Brown differed from Kathleen Wynne in the first place.
But while Brown shut down discussion about the sex-ed curriculum, whipped the vote on issues like the abortion clinic bubble zones, and muzzled social conservatives in his caucus, it appears unlikely that his successor will follow in his footsteps. Christine Elliot has already sent out an email blast promising free votes on issues of conscience, and told the Toronto Sun that she would be willing to revisit the sex ed curriculum, which should be “age appropriate.” Tanya Granic Allen of Parents as First Educators (PAFE) has tossed her hat into the ring, promising to push social conservative issues into the forefront of the leadership debate.
And Doug Ford announced yesterday that, “Unlike the Liberals, I know that parents, not government, are our children’s first educators. The sex-ed curriculum should be about facts, not teaching Liberal ideology. Parents should have the first and final say on what they want to teach their kids past this point. This is the number one issue at the door and I will remain firm on this issue. I have always respected the taxpayer.”
In fact, the only candidate who has indicated that she wants to keep debates around issues like the sex-ed curriculum closed is rookie Caroline Mulroney. Interestingly, Monte McNaughton, who is known as one of the prominent social conservative members of caucus, endorsed her almost immediately. Unless McNaughton knows something the rest of us don’t, this seems to be an either stupid or cynical move—and certainly not in the best interests of the social conservatives who supported his own leadership campaign last time around. Then again, perhaps he is simply doing a repeat of the terrible judgement he showed in backing Patrick Brown last time—only to have Brown promptly muzzle him on issues of conscience after attaining the leadership.
Regardless of the outcome of the leadership race, social conservatives—which make up at least 20% of the electorate–are now back in what Elliot called “the big blue tent.” Patrick Brown betrayed many of the conservative factions within the party, and discovered that when he needed friends, he no longer had any. Hopefully this lesson will be taken to heart by politicians who would like to change their tune and abandon their supporters the moment they see a politically expedient opportunity.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.