Sunday, August 28, 2016

Has flip-flopping Patrick Brown just handed the 2018 election back to Kathleen Wynne?

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS
I've never liked Patrick Brown.

He's a good organizer who knows how to put in the miles to attend meetings, suck up to the right people, sell memberships, and construct an internal party organization good enough to deliver those votes in a leadership race. 

But those skills don't make him a good political leader for the province.  Instead, since he swamped the more qualified Christine Elliott to seize the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership last year, he's shown himself to be a chameleon, changing his positions often on crucial issues.  

Brown used to be one of the most socially conservative MPs sitting on Stephen Harper's backbenches.  He voted to reconsider same sex marriage in this country long after most Canadians had put the issue to bed.  He's on the record opposing abortion and relied heavily on anti-abortion voters to get him elected Ontario PC leader.  

But after winning that leadership, he started attending LGBT Pride parades, trying to re-position himself as a centrist.   He even promised to implement some kind of carbon tax. 

Brown's not a great orator.  He doesn't have any special personal story that most Ontarians will find compelling.  He basically got his law degree at U of Windsor and then went straight into politics.  Like Jason Kenney, he's still single.

For a guy with virtually no political accomplishments, how he decides to define himself on policy is crucial.  Yet Brown is now showing fairly unattractive cards as he announced late last week he's flip-flopping on the new school curriculum, bowing to ignorant parents in a rush to win a by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River on September 1st.

In an open letter, Brown wrote, "a PC government would scrap the controversial changes to sex-ed introduced by Premier Wynne and develop a new curriculum after thoughtful and full consultation with parents."

This is the second flip flop by Brown on the curriculum.  He was initially opposed to it during the leadership race (in order to win those socially conservative votes, of course.)   Then he backtracked, saying he could live with it (this was during his "move to the centre" phase.)

But now he's back opposing it in the vaguest of terms, calling the open letter he sent out outlining his latest position as "a form letter that was used in a byelection. What I'm committed to doing is making sure that in the next curriculum, that we would engage parents and that parents would be given a voice."

So is he scrapping the sex-ed curriculum now or waiting until the next curriculum to do it?  It's unclear.  

This is opportunistic and confusing.  Brown is an emperor without clothes.  These are not the qualities we want in our leaders.

Suddenly, Kathleen Wynne's chances in 2018 got a whole lot better.

Brown's ploy may help his local candidate in the by-election.  I'm not sure.  But what this crass move says about his judgment isn't flattering.    

The greater battle that lies ahead in 2018 is starting to shape up a lot like 2014.


I just want to add this thought.  The Ontario PC Party has spent the last 13 years in opposition trying to figure out how to best re-define itself post-Mike Harris.

The neo-conservative tilt to the right under Harris eventually caused a big backlash among Ontarians who switched back to the centre under Liberal Dalton McGuinty in 2003.  Ontario voters understood full well that big tax cuts mean big cuts to public services on which we depend. 

When the Ontario PCs elected John Tory as leader in 2004, it seemed to signify the party was moderating itself again in the same vein as Bill Davis.

However, Tory screwed up big time by promising to fund religious schools.   It was an attempt to placate social conservatives, but it backfired and he got creamed in the 2007 election.  Since then, hard-right Conservatives in the Ontario PC party have done their best to push the party back to the right (even though it was a very right-wing policy funding religious schools that sank it.)

Under Tim Hudak and now again under Brown, the party is more Mike Harris than Bill Davis.  But this is a gross miscalculation.  Ontarians don't want another far-right, Conservative government like the one Mike Harris led.  If they are to kick out the Liberals, they want a moderate, socially liberal/fiscally conservative option.  The kind of which Christine Elliott would've provided.

Now under the unimpressive chameleon that is Patrick Brown, it seems the party is in danger of repeating 2014 all over again.

*******UPDATE Aug 29, 2016*********

Patrick Brown has now announced today in a Toronto Star op-ed that the open letter the Tories sent out last week to Scarborough residents was a "mistake" and that he does not plan to "scrap" the Liberals' sex-ed curriculum after all.  His only pledge remains to consult more parents before the next curriculum is approved (even though consultations on this curriculum were extensive). 

This is a bit dizzying.  I must admit I do prefer this flip flop over the last one as at least he's (currently) landing on the right side of the issue now.  Still, this doesn't help build credibility he so desperately needs to convince voters he's premier material.  But he did squash this controversy rather quickly.   There is something to being willing to admit a mistake. 

Regardless of this Thursday's byelection results, we'll see how he continues to perform going forward and if this kind of policy snafu can be avoided in the future.