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                            RUMBLINGS OF DISCONTENT IN PATRICK BROWN'S PC PARTY

 

By Peter Shurman

Are we about to witness the biggest shake-up in Ontario politics ever? Pollsters measure status quo, but what if the game changes totally?

Everyday Ontarians pay very little attention until about eight to ten weeks before an election. They complain about high electricity bills but then celebrate the resulting reduction. Sometimes, they comment if they overhear a phrase like “past their best before date.” But not many eat provincial politics for breakfast.

Right now, among those who do, it’s no stretch to say there’s a palpable malaise - and it’s important. Why? Because what they are thinking usually translates into what the public ultimately hears and votes on when Election Day arrives.

I’ve heard Liberal insiders question Kathleen Wynne’s ability to work her magic one more time and NDPers say their leader, Andrea Horwath, either wins in 2018 or it’s the end of the line.

But the real surprise is unexpected chatter coming from inside the PC Party, where I used to hang my hat. Quoting from an old Broadway lyric, there may be “trouble in River City.”

Next spring, we should see an interesting race, perhaps a good thing. New options usually attract public attention, make people read and think a bit more carefully, and then actually vote!

What I’m referring to is mounting talk of two identifiable Conservative factions not in sync with the PCs. One is fairly visible and well known - the social conservatives or ‘so-cons’. They’ve expressed unhappiness with leader Patrick Brown’s alleged desertion of positions attributed to him, when he was a federal MP, on issues like abortion and sex-education. A well-known party activist recently wrote: “It is time we gave Patrick Brown exactly what he wants and leave the party. It is time for a new party on the right.” Then, there’s a website “axethecarbontax.ca” and a similar Facebook page, the work of Jim Karahalios, a high-profile organizer. He’s not alone in standing against Brown on a carbon tax for Ontario. And, just two weeks ago, another PC party voice from North Bay, Craig Dellandrea, wrote this in an article published in Policy Options by the Institute for Research on Public Policy: Ontario needs a party that can be the home for all those in the political wilderness on the right." 

Then, there are the moderate party faithful who, like me, are hard fiscal conservatives but more socially liberal, where there are also rumblings. This group accepts the prevailing broad view on issues like same-sex marriage, for example, but what seems like a growing number also appear unimpressed with the carbon tax idea.

There’s agitation about local candidate nominations. A gilt-edged list of senior PC and Conservative leaders wrote to the PC Party Executive supporting an appeal of “serious irregularities” at a May 11th nomination meeting in Ottawa West-Nepean. There’s the same dissatisfaction in Newmarket-Aurora and Hamilton-West/Ancaster. And disturbing news has been circulating suggesting a new alternative movement is in the nascent stages. Word is it could include disenchanted conservatives, right-leaning Liberals, local campaign organizers, former candidate wannabes and may even feature names from within the PC caucus.

So, what if a parallel party did develop? Or even two? While it’s difficult to say how many voters would lean toward a socially conservative option, some estimates currently suggest as many as 70,000 politically active Ontarians are in that orbit. It’s not a small number. Keep in mind that the win/lose party differential in 2014 was about 300,000 votes - flip 50% around and everything goes the other way.

There’s enough ‘noise’ to conclude something is happening. Clearly, conservatives have questions. But no new party is about to take over government in Ontario next year. What a new party might achieve is to upset the current balance. The NDP under Horwath and the Liberals under Wynne are both social democratic parties on the left. Only the PC party occupies the space to the right. Traditionally, a swing block of voters numbering (at most) 20% defines Ontario as Liberal or PC. But what if they rejected Wynne and the PC party splintered? Andrea Horwath might become “three times lucky” and look forward to measuring for new drapes in the Premier’s office. The other scenario, if Horwath cannot attract more than her traditional 20-something percent and the conservative vote splits, is a Wynne win with Ontario maintaining a Liberal government for another four years.

The question is why this shift is suddenly making waves? The wild card is Patrick Brown and allegations popping up of wrong-headed policies, insufficient policy development, undesired centralized control of riding nominations and questionable tactics inside this old and proud institution.

All parties are going to have to clearly solidify their positions long before June 2018. If strong voices emerge from unanticipated newcomer groups running counter to what Ontarians have come to expect, the political landscape could look different than the pictures being painted by both mainstream media and polling organizations.

 

Peter Shurman is a former Conservative MPP & Opposition Finance Critic.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted date : June 01, 2017
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