Queen's Park reporter Jane Taber takes an inside look at the week in Ontario politics.
Patrick Brown and the politics of Pride
Patrick Brown, the new Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader, sent a short – but politically significant – e-mail to his caucus colleagues early last Friday: “I have decided to participate in the Pride Parade on Sunday,” he wrote.
For most politicians, attending the parade is a given. Not for the Ontario PCs, however. Mr. Brown was the first PC leader to officially march in the event, even though participating risks alienating supporters on the social conservative side of the party.
Mr. Brown’s e-mail went on: “If there is anyone in your riding that you want me to call who may not support my decision, I am happy to call them personally.” He did have to call “a few people,” according to his office. But a senior insider says that Mr. Brown decided to attend the parade to be consistent with his outreach to involve more people in the party.
He won the leadership, mostly, by reaching out to diverse communities across the province. Being inclusive, says the insider, also means involving and showing support for the LGBT community. Wrote Mr. Brown in his e-mail: “I have attended Pride functions in Barrie [his hometown] previously but this may get more attention given the size of the Toronto event. Patrick.”
Marching with federal minister Kellie Leitch and the small Tory delegation – the Liberals and NDP had floats and large contingents – is Mr. Brown’s effort, in part, at changing the face of the party to be more progressive and centrist. His critics, especially Ontario Liberals, have labelled him a social conservative. Some of them point to the fact that as a federal MP he voted to repeal same-sex marriage and supported a motion that could have limited abortion rights. He has said as PC leader he would not interfere with a woman’s right to choose. So, marching in the parade is a step at silencing his critics.
And so is the fact that eastern Ontario MPP Jack MacLaren and his wife, Janet, marched alongside Mr. Brown. Mr. MacLaren, who was one of the few caucus members supporting Mr. Brown’s leadership (most were with Christine Elliott), is a former president of the Ontario Landowners Association, which advocates for more private property rights and the interests of rural Ontarians. He has been labelled a social conservative but says, “I have never professed to be a social conservative.”
He said that Mr. Brown called him about his decision to march and asked him what he thought. “I agree with being in the parade,” Mr. MacLaren said he told Mr. Brown. “We support good people so why would we not be there?”
Mr. MacLaren offered to attend. “It was a very positive experience,” he said about the three-hour march. He says that he and Mr. Brown have been misrepresented and that participating in the parade has not changed a thing.
“This is who we have always been,” he said. “We are small-c conservatives … and I don’t think that has anything to do with anybody’s sexual orientation or anything else. There’s all kinds of different people who make up Canada.”
The path to electoral victory runs through Toronto
For Justin Trudeau, the federal Liberal Leader, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, Toronto and the GTA is becoming a second home. The two opposition leaders, both of whom represent Quebec ridings, were in the region again this week for Canada Day, hopping from riding to riding to wave the flag, and underscoring the importance of the region in the upcoming election.
It is considered the key battleground. In the last several weeks – the House of Commons rose on June 19 and will not return until after the election – the two leaders have been in and out of Toronto and the GTA about once a week, sometimes twice. They both attended Pride events and marched in the parade last weekend.
Mr. Trudeau slipped quietly into Toronto earlier last week for a dinner honouring Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that was put on by an influential Jewish group. Later in the week, he was meeting people at the Bramalea GO station and then at an event in Mississauga. Recently, Mr. Mulcair delivered a major speech on his plans for middle-class Canadians at the Economic Club in Toronto.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also been more present in the region. “If the Conservatives don’t do well in the GTA it is going to be a very disappointing election for them,” says Nik Nanos, the national pollster for Nanos Research. “They can’t really hold on to a majority government without holding on to their pick-up, especially in the 905-belt.”
In 2011, the Tories won a number of seats in Toronto and the GTA from the Liberals. But, the NDP is the one to worry about in 2015. It is winning in the opinion polls now and posing a threat to Liberals, especially in Toronto. Says Mr. Nanos: “In the last election, the New Democrats didn’t do well enough to have a breakthrough in Toronto but they did do well enough to spoil things for the Liberals,” he said. “So, the question is can the New Democrats move up to another level in Toronto where they can move from spoiler to winner. … It’s going to be a much more dynamic race in Toronto than we have seen in the past.”