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Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader Patrick Brown, left, raises his hands in victory with leadership candidate Christine Elliott after winning the PC party leadership in Toronto on Saturday, May 9, 2015.


After the scorched-earth battle for the Progressive Conservative crown, you can hardly blame the many Tories who want to move on immediately and never speak again of the last 10 months.

But the leadership crucible revealed a lot about the party, both good and bad.

Here are four things we've learned from the PC leadership race – things the party might want to bear in mind as it tries to build itself into a force capable of unseating Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals in 2018.

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The 905 problem
Maybe it should have been obvious after the last election how deficient the Tories' appeal is in the Toronto suburbs. After all, the PCs won just two seats in this vote-rich area, dubbed the 905 after its area code.

But it took Patrick Brown's decisive leadership win to bring home why. During the race, he frequently accused the provincial PCs of not making enough of an effort to send caucus members to community events and build an organization in the area. And he should know: as a federal MP, he has spent much of the last nine years doing the painstaking work of building relationships with the communities, particularly new Canadians, in this diverse region.

He did the same for his leadership campaign, signing up a substantial chunk of his 41,000 new members in the 905. He won most of the area's ridings decisively.

Yes, a leadership race is very different from a general election. But grassroots organizing is an important part of both. And it is particularly vital in an area like this, a battleground that typically decides both federal and provincial elections.

The party (still) hasn't figured out how to deal with social conservatives
During the lead-up to the last election, Tim Hudak put the party's focus so thoroughly on the economy that social issues dropped off the radar.

But they're back.

Not only is Mr. Brown himself a social conservative – he voted to reopen the abortion debate while a federal MP – but he made a concerted push to rally them as a force in the party, largely by stoking the uproar over the Liberal government's sexual education curriculum.

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MPP Monte McNaughton, who also sought the leadership until he dropped out last month to support Mr. Brown, went a step further. He made public statements (such as accusing leadership hopeful Christine Elliott of trying to build a "little pink tent") that were regarded by some in the party as homophobic. He denied this was his intent, but his critics accused him of dog whistling to bigots.

One of Mr. Brown's supporters, MPP Rick Nicholls, even declared in the legislature that he does not believe in evolution.

It all had the effect of exposing serious divisions in the party. Moderate MPPs, including Lisa MacLeod and Todd Smith, publicly condemned the social conservative outbursts, as did many rank-and-file party members. The day after Mr. McNaughton's "little pink tent" comment, several of his colleagues showed up in pink scarves, ties and shirts in Question Period in protest. The party whip, Steve Clark, gave Mr. Nicholls a dressing down after his evolution comment.

Following his victory Saturday, Mr. Brown tried to take all of this off the table by promising not to revisit social conservative issues as leader.

But that might be more easily said than done. The social conservatism Mr. Brown displayed was a part of the reason he won the leadership, including his inroads into new Canadian communities, and it will be tough to keep these constituencies behind him while downplaying the issues that brought them onto his team in the first place.

The party (still) has a thing for blokeish leaders
With his glib one-liners and tough-talking platform, Mr. Hudak often came off as a smug frat boy. Such a characterization was probably unfair – a dedicated family man, Mr. Hudak is warm and likeable in person. But to the cameras, he read as a guy's-guy, and struggled to convince women to vote for the party.

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After last year's election loss, the conventional wisdom went, the PCs would inevitably turn to a different kind of leader. This is in part why the party establishment rallied to the soft-spoken Christine Elliott and her emphasis on social policy.

Things didn't exactly turn out as expected.

Mr. Brown, a Red Bull-swilling hockey player and runner, looks even more like a dude-bro than the man he's replacing.

To his credit, no one seems to realize this more than Mr. Brown. During his campaign, he repeatedly promised not to pick the sorts of fights – with organized labour and government workers – that Mr. Hudak did. At his victory party Saturday, he praised Ms. Elliott and said she would play an important role in his caucus.

Whether he can make good on these intentions will be one of the key tests in crafting his image as a leader.

Jim Wilson is possibly the most candid politician at Queen's Park
From the moment he was named interim PC leader last July, veteran MPP Jim Wilson made clear that the tight scripting of Mr. Hudak's leadership was a thing of the past.

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Emerging from the caucus meeting that installed him, waiting reporters asked Mr. Wilson for his assessment of the party's problems.

"We shot ourselves in the foot in the last election and we've got to stop doing that," he replied.

It was a breath of fresh air in the stiflingly over-messaged confines of Queen's Park. And it set the tone for the next 10 months.

On the first day of the fall legislative session, gesturing at the benches of the newly-enlarged Liberal caucus on the government side of the legislature:

"It feels like déjà vu all over again, Speaker -- they're there, and we're here," Mr. Wilson said.

"All is right in the world," replied Ms. Wynne.

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"I teed that up for you."

At a press conference, explaining why he is a Tory:

"I'm too ethical to be a Liberal, and I don't have enough left feet to be a New Democrat."

Asked by a reporter about the Liberals' plan to create a "beer ombudsman" to oversee The Beer Store:

"I would be well qualified for that job. And so would you."

After a tribute to him at the PC leadership announcement Saturday:

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"I'm happy to say that I didn't burn the house down while I was looking after it."

In a party that can often feel overly earnest and a little humourless, the Tories could learn from Mr. Wilson's easygoing style.

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