Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ontario PCs now must choose between moderate mainstream or Tea Party takeover


Tea Party Ontario PC leadership candidate Monte McNaughton
I love Kathleen Wynne dearly and greatly appreciate her style of leadership.  I find that I agree with her on most issues.   I think she brings a smart balance between pragmatism and progressive politics and has the listening and consensus-building skills that make her a great leader.  I hope that she continues to govern Ontario for as long as possible.

But by 2018, the Ontario Liberals will have been in power for 15 years.  It's also likely that the federal Liberal Party will be back in power in Ottawa by then.  Ontario voters love to elect different parties to office federally and provincially.   Thus an Ontario Liberal government long in the tooth with a long legacy of scandals will likely be extremely vulnerable to an effective challenger next time. 

Thus far, the mainstream of the Ontario PCs seems to be coalescing around the leadership candidacy of Christine Elliott, MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and widow of former federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.   This week, two of her moderate opponents for the leadership, Vic Fedeli and Lisa MacLeod, dropped out and endorsed her.   Elliott's been talking like a smart red Tory, emphasizing fiscal conservatism but also socially progressive policies.  She's very much in the same ilk as Bill Davis and John Tory.   Should she win the leadership and project competence and vision, she'll give Wynne quite the challenge in 2018. 

Yet the Tea Party wing of the Ontario PCs refuses to go away.   It seems clear that both Lambton-area MPP Monte McNaughton and Barrie MP Patrick Brown are fighting over that Tea Party vote in order to try to stop Elliott.  

As for Brown, I can only say this: if Brown is talented enough to be premier of Ontario, wouldn't he have at least made federal cabinet by now?  Such a talent would've ascended higher than the backbench in Ottawa, no?  Brown strikes me as a twerp, in over his head with an ego out of touch with reality.  He'd be a weaker leader than Tim Hudak.   It remains to be seen if his leadership campaign will get any real traction.

But it's perhaps Monte McNaughton who might form a bigger threat.  Now he's been endorsed by former Toronto crack mayor Rob Ford, who's turned his back on his family friend, Elliott, in favour of this unknown MPP from southwestern Ontario.   

Why?  Unfortunately it seems to be that McNaughton, along with a number of far-right Tea Party types, want to keep the Ontario PC Party on the far right. And this attracts RoFo. 

The far right Ontario PCs have been a losing force since 2003 in Ontario.  That year, Ontario voters signaled fatigue with years of undermining public services by electing a Liberal government promising to return quality to public education and public health care.   In 2007, in response to the right-wing promise to finance more religion in public schools, Ontario voters gave the Liberals another huge majority.  And in 2014 (and to a lesser extent in 2011), when offered an austerity agenda that would cut thousands of public service jobs, Ontario voters opted against such lunacy.

It's baffling that there is still a contingent of Ontario PCs who think that if they keep down this road they'll still be able to win one day.   It's the definition of insanity.  Thus, it's not surprising that Rob Ford would be supportive of it.

Ford carefully nourished a bigoted persona and still does.  His barely-concealed contempt for the LGBT community - including refusing to take part in Pride Toronto events - were designed to win support of anti-gay bigots in the suburbs and ethnic communities.   Disrespecting gays was a fundamental building block of Ford Nation.

It worked for one election for RoFo in 2010.  In 2014, after four years of crack scandals and general incompetence at City Hall, that support was still there for his brother, who earned 34% of the vote and carried many low income areas where homophobia runs rampant.  Now RoFo thinks he can work his homophobic magic for Monte McNaughton.

The only issue for which McNaughton has been getting any ink is his frequent criticism of the new Ontario education curriculum.  He's using rhetoric similar to that used by Charles McVety-type bigots around the province, who are attempting to slam the changes that would emphasize the importance of consent.

Martin Regg Cohn recently wrote a nice column about the burgeoning fight over the curriculum.

Columnist Andrew Perez also recently wrote about the ongoing struggle in the Ontario PCs. 

As a tactic, it could prove somewhat effective in a party with only about 10,000 members at the start of this leadership race.  If they can sign up a bunch of bigots across the province, it could hamper Christine Elliott's more moderate campaign.  

But like the Tea Party in the U.S., where weak, far-right candidates managed to win Republican nominations, only to get crushed by their Democratic opponents in the general election, this tactic will actually help Ontario Liberals and Kathleen Wynne in the end. 

If by some pathetic miracle that McNaughton or Brown do manage to win the Ontario PC leadership in May, they will ensure another Liberal majority for Kathleen Wynne in 2018.  Both would be less effective at winning over Ontario voters than Tim Hudak.




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