POLITICS

Ontario's Progressive Conservatives To Name New Leader Saturday

05/08/2015 01:40 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Progressive Conservatives find out Saturday who they elected to lead Ontario's official Opposition party after a relatively uneventful seven-month campaign.

The party hasn't disclosed turnout numbers, but more than 76,000 PC members were eligible to vote Sunday and Thursday for either deputy leader Christine Elliott or Barrie MP Patrick Brown. The winner will be announced at a Toronto convention centre around noon Saturday.

Elliott, 60, placed third in the 2009 leadership race won by Tim Hudak, and has been endorsed by the majority of the PC caucus at Queen's Park and by former premier Bill Davis. She says she represents the "progressive" side of the PC party, especially on social issues.

"I think that has always been the root of our party, combining being fiscally responsible with being socially compassionate," she said. "I want to go back to our roots. I think that's what people are looking for."

Progressive Conservative became a "toxic brand," especially among women and young people, after moving to the political right in recent elections, said Elliott. And Brown's views are "outside the Ontario mainstream," she added.

"Patrick represents the constituency that I'm concerned about, that the social conservative group within the party would take over, and I think that's not where people want us to go," Elliott said. "Most of the people in Ontario are in the centre-right, but not that far right."

Elliott, the widowed mother of triplet sons aged 24, says the Tories must change the tone and direction of the party if they want to win the 2018 election.

Brown, 36, says he wasn't involved in any of the PC's past "policy disasters" such as last year's campaign pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, and is better positioned than Elliott to bring a fresh start to the party.

Elliott leans too closely to the Liberal side of the spectrum, and if that's the choice, voters will choose the real Liberals every time, he warns.

"I'm proud to be a Progressive Conservative, but obviously this leadership is a choice between a Liberal-lite version of the party and those that believe that we can win as conservatives," said Brown. "We can win and have the courage of our convictions."

The three-term federal Conservative backbencher says the party lost the last four elections because of policies dictated by PC headquarters instead of soliciting ideas from its grassroots members.

Brown, who is single, sold 41,000 memberships in the party, compared with about 34,000 by Elliott, but her campaign insists its support is widespread across Ontario while his is concentrated in much fewer ridings.

With each riding getting a total of 100 points for the new leader, where PC memberships were sold was just as important as how many, but of course what truly mattered was getting those members out to vote.

There were originally five contestants in the leadership race, but Ottawa-area MPP Lisa MacLeod and North Bay MPP Vic Fedeli both pulled out early and threw their support behind Elliott. London-area MPP Monte McNaughton endorsed Brown when he withdrew from the contest.

Hudak resigned after the PCs lost their fourth consecutive election to the Liberals last June, the second under his leadership.

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