Patrick Brown has joined the race for the federal Conservative leadership, with a warning that the party needs to broaden its appeal beyond its core supporters if it hopes to wrestle power from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
The 43-year-old mayor of Brampton, one of the most diverse cities in Ontario, joined another candidate, former Quebec premier and one-time Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest, in claiming more centrist positions than the man seen as the front-runner, MP Pierre Poilievre.
In a speech Sunday, Mr. Brown underscored his potential to help the party make inroads in urban and suburban Canada.
“I want people who have never voted Conservative and have voted for other parties to feel welcome in our family. I want people who have been turned off by recent Conservative infighting to get inspired and fight alongside me for a better vision for our country,” Mr. Brown said.
A former federal Conservative MP and former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Mr. Brown launched his campaign with a 25-minute address and didn’t take questions.
In a sign that he intends to leverage his record running a large, diverse municipality, all the posters in the convention hall referred to him as “Mayor Brown.” He was introduced on stage by Salma Ataullahjan, a Conservative senator born in Pakistan.
The venue was packed with hundreds of supporters, including Walied Soliman, former campaign co-chair for the previous Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole.
Without naming Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Brown alluded to the other candidate’s reputation for pugnacious partisanship.
“Conservatives deserve more than a leader who is an attack dog in opposition, but will never be prime minister, because they’ve already turned off many Canadians that we have to inspire in order to win at federal elections,” Mr. Brown said. “There’s too much at stake to elect another leader who will keep us in opposition.”
In another dig at his rivals, Mr. Brown attacked backroom operators of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. He said they contributed to the party’s defeat in the 2015 federal election by proposing two policies – a ban on wearing face coverings while taking the citizenship oath, and a telephone tip line for “barbaric cultural practices.”
“Other leadership candidates are taking advice from the same senior advisers who decided to launch those policies in the 2015 Conservative federal election campaign, advisers who never admitted the harm those policies did both to Canada and to our party.”
Just before Mr. Brown’s event began, veteran Harper aide Jenni Byrne, a prominent Poilievre supporter, had tweeted a video attacking the mayor’s credentials as a genuine Conservative.
The video alluded to Mr. Brown’s change of heart from his initial opposition to the federal carbon-pricing plan and Ontario’s new sexual-education curriculum. It also alluded to voting irregularities at Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party nominations while Mr. Brown was leader.
In his speech, Mr. Brown said he had urged Ottawa to postpone a planned increase of the carbon levy. “Conservatives care about protecting the environment and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. I certainly do. And the Conservative Party must be part of the solution to address the challenge of climate change. However, unlike the Liberals, our party cares about keeping life affordable.”
Mr. Brown resigned as party leader of the Ontario PCs in January, 2018, after CTV News aired allegations of sexual misconduct from two women during his time as an MP. He has denied the allegations and last week he and CTV reached a legal settlement, with the network expressing regrets that “key details” in its reporting were incorrect.
Ten months after he was forced out of the provincial PCs, he became mayor of Brampton.
He has been vocal in criticizing Bill 21, the Quebec legislation that bars some public-sector employees, including teachers, from wearing visible religious symbols such as hijabs at work. In December, the City of Brampton, led by Mr. Brown, pledged $100,000 in financial support for the legal challenge to the law.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. O’Toole have been reluctant to wade into the Bill 21 debate to avoid a spat with the province, especially its francophone electorate. Mr. Charest has stated that he would not initiate a court challenge against the law but would have a say if it ends up before the Supreme Court.
“When everyone else was silent against legislation that bans religious symbols, I fought to protect religious freedom,” Mr. Brown said Sunday.
“No one should ever lose their job based on their faith and we must fight for equality of opportunity for every Canadian, no matter if they wear a turban, a cross, a hijab or a kippah because that is a Canadian value,” he added, then repeating his remarks in French.
The next Conservative leader will be announced on Sept. 10. Independent Ontario legislator Roman Baber and Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis have also declared their candidacies.
With a report from Ian Bailey in Ottawa
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