Promising a "fresh start" for Ontario's Progressive Conservatives after four election losses, Patrick Brown is making his leadership bid official.
"I have no baggage from the past failures. I have no baggage from the past policies. I owe no favours to insiders," he said in an interview. "I'm the only candidate who presents the opportunity to have that fresh start."
The federal MP for Barrie has been steadily building his bid in recent months, with a formal launch in his riding Sunday.
Mr. Brown is playing up the fact that – unlike the other four contenders for the Tory crown – he was not at Queen's Park for the missteps that have kept the once-mighty party stuck in opposition for the last decade.
The party was trounced by the governing Liberals in last June's election after then-leader Tim Hudak promised to slash the size of the public sector by 10 per cent.
"I certainly wouldn't have campaigned on cutting 100,000 jobs. That was obviously a significant error in judgment," Mr. Brown said.
But Mr. Brown brings some baggage of his own.
Two years ago, he voted in favour of a controversial motion in the House of Commons to study the Criminal Code's definition of when life begins – widely seen as a step towards limiting abortion rights.
His support for the motion, which was soundly defeated, may endear him to social conservatives in the party. But it could hinder efforts to attract mainstream voters.
Mr. Brown seemed keenly aware of this. He told The Globe he would not interfere with a woman's right to choose if he takes charge of the PCs.
"I will not change the status quo and I will oppose any effort to do so," he said when asked about his position on abortion. "I look at the coalition the Prime Minister has built, the winning coalition…we're not going to change the status quo we have in Ontario today in any fashion."
But when asked why he voted in favour of the motion, Mr. Brown twice dodged the question.
"Every private member's bill is unique and I would say that I've always been a supporter of debate in the House of Commons and discussion," he said. "We have probably four or five hundred votes a year in the House of Commons. I have been there for nine years. I think it would be difficult to analyze every vote."
Mr. Brown said he will not resign his federal seat during the leadership race.
MPPs Christine Elliott, Vic Fedeli and Monte McNaughton have already declared for the leadership. Lisa MacLeod is expected to launch her campaign next month.
All have talked about making the party more democratic to avoid a leader putting forward another unpopular policy like the 100,000 job cut. Mr. Brown echoed that pledge. If chosen leader, he said, he would submit future election platforms to party rank-and-file for ratification.
"It's important to have not only the policy development process but the actual platform adopted and ratified by the broader party apparatus and not just by a select few in the backroom at Queen's Park," he said.
Mr. Brown also pledged to bring Prime Minister Stephen Harper's winning ways to Ontario. He said would reach out to groups that have broken heavily in favour of the Liberals provincially in recent elections, including new Canadians in the Toronto suburbs and firefighters unions.
"I look at our federal campaigns and I see thousands of new Canadians, thousands of young people. I see police, I see firefighters, I see nurses," he said. "We didn't see that in the past [Ontario] PC party campaign. We allowed the base to shrink and shrink and obviously the results spoke for themselves."
A 36-year-old lawyer, Mr. Brown has been in parliament since 2006. He chairs parliament's Canada-India association, and also helped set up the Commons Subcommittee on Neurological Disease, a cause close to his heart after losing his grandmother to Alzheimers.
An avid runner and hockey player, Mr. Brown said he became politically active in the 1990s, when Jean Charest led the federal Progressive Conservatives. His aunt, he said, was Mr. Charest's neighbour in North Hatley, Quebec.
"I said: 'This guy, I love his passion for Canada.' I went and knocked on his door and said 'how can I volunteer?'" Mr. Brown recalled.
He said Mr. Charest connected him with his sister, who lived in Barrie and took him to party events.
Mr. Brown also promised a more conciliatory approach to politics. Where Mr. Hudak opposed nearly everything the Liberals did – and even rejected the party's budget before it had even been tabled – Mr. Brown said he would take a more even-handed approach.
"I will compliment [the Liberals] on what they do that is right and I will criticize them vocally on what is not in the best interests of Ontario," he said. "There's no monopoly on a good idea."