Ontario Progressive Conservative Patrick Brown attacked the Wynne Liberals Saturday night, and portrayed himself as a pragmatic Conservative who believes in climate change, including putting a price on carbon, unions, and falling in-love with whomever you want.
Mr. Brown called Kathleen Wynne's cap-and-trade plan a "cash grab that is simply another slush fund."
He said his party has to do something about climate change, which he described as "man made" and a "threat."
"And that 'something' includes putting a price on carbon," he said. "But it cannot be a cash grab. And it must be revenue neutral with corresponding tax cuts for individuals and businesses."
He said, too, that it must be "subject to independent oversight."
Mr. Brown has been criticized by his opponents, however, for being weak on policy. His comments Saturday on cap-and-trade are the most comprehensive he has been so far.
He was speaking to more than 1,700 delegates at the PC Party convention in Ottawa. It is his first convention as leader, and he is trying to put his stamp on the party and rebrand it as modern. He also wants to showcase his leadership style, one that is energetic and inclusive.
He won the leadership by attracting new members to the PC Party, including many from a number of different ethnic communities.
Mr. Brown and his team had not been sure how delegates would react to his cap-and-trade stance. It was a bit of a risk as not all PCs agree on the issue. In fact, there was only tepid applause and one person in the audience shouted "no" when he started to speak on it.
In a scrum with reporters later, Mr. Brown explained why he took this stance on climate change. "I wanted to speak from my heart tonight and talk about the challenges the Progressive Conservatives need to address."
He said there is "significant support within our membership and certainly in our caucus for taking that direction." He said, too, that he and his caucus had a discussion about climate change: "There was a united party stand, practically universal on the position I am taking."
Ottawa Liberal MPP Marie-France Lalonde called Mr. Brown's climate change stance a "flip-flop." She said when he was an MP he had supported the Harper Conservatives who did not move on the file.
Under the Wynne cap-and-trade scheme the price of carbon will be set at around $18 a tonne, which converts to about four cents a litre of gasoline or about $9 a month more to heat a home. More than 100 big industrial polluters will receive breaks. In addition, about $1.3-billion in revenue from selling permits will go to a special greenhouse gas reduction account, which the government will manage.
This convention is about change, a theme Mr. Brown and his team have been emphasizing this weekend.
"There is one thing that Kathleen Wynne fears more than anything else: a Progressive Conservative Party that has the courage to change," he said in his speech.
The party hired a top Toronto production firm to organize the convention – one official said they wanted to put on a show. They certainly did – a Bollywood-inspired dance group performed a lively piece before Mr. Brown spoke, and a slickly-produced video introduced him. Even before that, the crowd was dancing to top 40 hits, including Bruno Mars's Uptown Funk.
Earlier on Saturday, the party launched a year-long, grassroots policy process. In his speech, Mr. Brown described this as "the most inclusive policy development process ever undertaken in this country."
He vowed that every member will have their say. Mr. Brown's predecessor Tim Hudak has been criticized for only consulting party insiders on his failed 2014 election platform that called for 100,000 public service jobs to be cut.
"I promise you this," he told delegates, "you will be the authors of our next platform. The days of policies imposed on the party from the top down are done for good."
Mr. Hudak was not at the convention.
In his speech, Mr. Brown also addressed perceptions that he is anti-gay because he voted against same-sex marriage when he was an MP. This was brought up repeatedly during the last year's leadership campaign.
"It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter where you're from. It doesn't matter who you love," he said.
He also made a reference to unions – saying it "doesn't matter if you belong to a union."
Mr. Hudak and his team had campaigned aggressively against unions. Mr. Brown is now trying to bring unions and their members into the PC tent; there are some union representatives at the convention and some are even sponsoring events.
In his speech, he attacked the Wynne Liberals for waste, mismanagement and scandal. He noted the provincial debt is "growing at the fastest rate of any federal or provincial government in Canada."
The debt this year is over $308-billion, and nearly $1-billion a month is paid in interest payments, he said.
"Wynne and the Liberals are making your life harder," Mr. Brown said.
The leader's speech came at the end of a day spent on party business, and also a motivational speech by former CFL star Michael "Pinball" Clemons.
Mr. Clemons spoke for about 45 minutes – a rambling, and at times evangelical-like, speech about kindness, love and support. He also recited lines from poems and quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. The crowd seemed to enjoy it. "Our last message is this," he said as he was wrapping up. "I look forward to the day when the love of power is replaced with the power of love."
Mr. Brown thanked him: "I am excited to have this man on our team. He is beautiful."
Mr. Clemons is a possible PC candidate for the 2018 provincial election, according to a senior Brown official.
Sports are a big part of Mr. Brown's life – and that was reflected in the convention, not only with the presence of Mr. Clemons but also at the opening ceremonies Friday night. All of the Tory MPPs were on stage wearing hockey sweaters of their hometown teams.
In addition to the Clemons speech, the party introduced a new logo. It is to reflect the new leader by showing inclusiveness, boldness and passion, according to one of the designers, Dan Robertson, who worked for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and was the creative mind behind the Conservative's 2011 election advertising campaign.
The new logo features a red and blue intertwined "P" and "C" to symbolize unity. A green stylized leaf is in the centre of the two letters.