By Connor Lynch and Patrick Meagher
There is a growing number of disgruntled Ontario Progressive Conservative Party supporters and this time it’s not just rural supporters in a huff.
That’s the take from the former Cambridge Conservative riding president Jim Karahalios, who has launched a new website called Take Back Our PC Party (www.takebackourpcparty.com).
Typically, people think it’s the rural conservatives who are first to hit the roof. “This time they are not alone,” Karahalios said. “Contrary to what the Toronto Star and the mainstream news outlets suggest, it’s not just the rural Conservatives who are upset. These are all members across Ontario who want the problem fixed.”
The problem, according to Karahalios, comes down to two issues: PC leader Patrick Brown caved in on the carbon tax and is not supporting grassroots democracy.
The party constitution calls for an open, public and democratic process to elect candidates, Karahalios said. Handpicking his candidate is “100 per cent contrary to the PC Party constitution.”
Karahalios, who lives in Cambridge, suggested that Brown is “at war with his party members.”
He told Farmers Forum that the goal of his fledgling movement is to trigger a meeting with Brown. If one-third of local PC riding associations get together, they can force the meeting, which allows for changes to the party’s constitution. The goal is to amend the party’s constitution to force Brown to accept the results of ridings’ nomination meetings.
A policy conference scheduled in Toronto for Nov. 23-25 is the target. Karahalios and his colleagues hope to turn that conference into a referendum on Brown’s leadership of the party. If anyone is wondering how long it takes to vote for a new leader, Tim Hudak was elected about eight weeks after John Tory resigned.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, which have typically been the voice of rural Ontario in the provincial legislature, have been rocked with controversy. Brown alienated social conservatives who supported him during the party leadership race, suddenly changing his stance on Ontario’s proposed sex-ed curriculum just before a byelection in Toronto.
The carbon tax reversal was a move that stunned many in his caucus, when Brown announced at an Ottawa party convention in 2016 that he supported carbon pricing.
The Ontario Landowners Association was one of the first groups to support Brown but now say they were betrayed.
In three riding associations, the executive committees quit. The Ottawa West-Nepean executive board quit over allegations of ballot stuffing. The former president, Emma McLennan, wrote to PC executive director Bob Stanley to express her displeasure. “We will not continue to support a leadership that condoned the serious, even fraudulent, irregularities at our nomination meeting.”
A nomination candidate in Hamilton filed a lawsuit against the party in May over the nomination process. Scarborough PC nominee Thenusha Parani is having her nomination appealed after irregularities in the nomination process were found. The PCs ended up hiring a private auditor to oversee their nomination processes in May.
MPP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills Jack MacLaren was fed up with the PC Party earlier this year and quit to join the Trillium Party of Ontario, saying that he could no longer abide Brown’s leadership and unwillingness or inability to listen to grassroots conservatives.
The candidate for Carleton riding, Jay Tysick, left the party after being disqualified for the nomination race last November. The only explanation came from Tysick, who told iPolitics that he believed he was disqualified because “I was too right-wing, I was too conservative.”
Tysick went on to form another splinter conservative party, the Ontario Alliance.
Brown, who said last September that he wanted to lead a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal,” party, seems to have alienated some fiscal conservatives with a promise of carbon pricing.
Why do this? The answer may lie with how Ontario’s votes are distributed. According to an analysis done by Macleans in 2015 following the federal election, in Ontario, the Liberals dominated urban centres and the Conservatives dominated the rural areas. But, even if the Conservatives had taken every single seat in a rural riding, around 40, that still would’ve been less than the Liberal’s 60-plus seats in urban ridings. The next election will increase ridings from 107 to 124 and 15 of those new ridings will be urban.
But the party is risking its power base, which has well-documented consequences, said Karahalios. “Before you win a city, you’ve got to win back these suburban and rural ridings we’ve lost, or never held. If we continue to splinter the membership, I don’t know how we’re winning the next election.”
Though the goal of the special general meeting wasn’t for it to be a referendum on Brown’s leadership, that’s how it will play out, said Karahalios. “If he embraces what’s happening here, he can turn the ship around. If he doesn’t, who knows what’ll happen next.”