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Politics Five things we learned from Patrick Brown’s PC victory

Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader Patrick Brown speaks after winning the PC party leadership in Toronto on Saturday, May 9, 2015.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Patrick Brown on not being a right-wing nut
Mr. Brown, the newly-elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, was criticized throughout the campaign by his opponents for being a social conservative whose values were not progressive enough for Ontario. His opposition to the Liberals' sex education curriculum, for example, was used to illustrate the point. At his post-win press conference Saturday, Mr. Brown was pointedly asked about his social conservatism: "How do you convince the public that you aren't some kind of right-wing nut?" asked one reporter. "That's a big challenge you have ahead. No one knows you from a load of hay." Mr. Brown, who calls himself a "pragmatic Conservative," said that the size of his victory and results – he won in ridings right across the province – speaks to that.

He crushed his opponent, Christine Elliott, in GTA ridings, for example, where his outreach to minority cultural groups was successful. "The party I am building is very different than the party you are accustomed to covering," he said. "This is the party that is the most diverse in Ontario now. This is a party that has labour leaders, public-sector, private-sector unions actively engaged in supporting my candidacy."

Laureen Harper's tips on uniting the party
With only five MPPs in the 28-member Ontario PC caucus supporting him, Mr. Brown says uniting the party is his priority right now. In an interview with The Globe and Mail after his victory Saturday, Mr. Brown recalled some advice that came from an unlikely source, Laureen Harper, the Prime Minister's wife. The two ran into each other a few weeks ago in Toronto at the rally for visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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"Laureen Harper pulled me aside and said that during her husband's two leaderships, Tony Clement [Treasury Board president in Stephen Harper's cabinet] and Stockwell Day [retired Harper minister] had said stuff that made her quite upset. And she said that 'day one' after winning the leadership Stephen knew that you had to work together and [he] didn't harbour any grudges. And, frankly, she said they are so thankful that they didn't because Tony and Stockwell ended up being wonderful ministers in the government."

The long campaign for the PC leadership resulted in a few skirmishes, including allegations from Ms. Elliott and her team that, if he won, social conservatives would take over the party. "I'm not going to harbour any grudges," says Mr. Brown.

The hug from Todd Smith
Todd Smith is the PC MPP for Prince Edward-Hastings and was one of the many caucus members supporting Christine Elliott's bid. But he was one of only a few of her MPP supporters who actually delivered for her. She outpolled Mr. Brown significantly in Prince Edward-Hastings, winning 67 of a possible 100 points to 33 for him. Mr. Brown, who plays hockey in his spare time, said he told Mr. Smith that he was glad to have him "on my line now." "And he gave me a hug and said, he was, too. I said 'I admire people who work hard and admire people who show tenacity'," recalled Mr. Brown.

The Alison Redford factor
The disgraced former Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford can teach Mr. Brown a few lessons about caucus outreach. A senior PC strategist, who asked not to be named, noted that Ms. Redford was elected leader of the PC party in Alberta with the support of only one caucus member. Her win, as was Mr. Brown's, was based on attracting support from outside the party. Like Mr. Brown, she was considered a party outsider. And when she won, she was told by her advisers, according to the strategist, that she needed to work on bringing together all of the caucus.

In fact, suggestions were made that she tear a page from former Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney's playbook for keeping caucus members loyal and close. In his darkest hours – when his government was down to single-digit support in the opinion polls – he still managed to keep his caucus united and happy. He really worked at it. The strategist says that she didn't – and in the end lost her premiership, in part, because no one had her back.

Keeping secrets
The PCs adopted a modified one-member-one-vote system for this leadership rather than the more exciting hoopla-driven delegated conventions of the past. Each riding was worth 100 points and allocated proportionately to each candidate's share of the vote. The votes were counted overnight on Friday at the Toronto Convention Centre, a huge venue located in an industrial area near the Pearson airport, by about 40 volunteers.

To ensure that the result did not get out before Saturday morning, the volunteers and campaign team scrutineers were divided into five groups. Each group only knew what their individual count was but did not have the big picture as they were sequestered – they ate meals separately and cots were set up for them – and were not allowed out until the results were being read. A candidate needed 5,292 points to win. And so, the read-out of the results was slightly dramatic – but most importantly, much quicker than the old-style conventions. In the end, Mr. Brown won 62 per cent of the points compared to 38 per cent for Ms. Elliott.

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