COLDWATER, Ont. — Ontario's Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown sailed to an easy victory in a provincial byelection Thursday, ensuring he will have a seat in the legislature when it resumes in a little over a week.
Brown, formerly a Conservative MP in nearby Barrie, won the party leadership in May. He resigned his federal seat but spent the last few weeks of the legislative session as a leader sidelined without a seat in the house.
Brown attributed his win to voters in Simcoe North rejecting "one of the most negative campaigns we've ever seen" by the Liberals, referencing attempts to paint him as an extreme social right winger.
"I think the premier's strategists at Queen's Park are going to be scratching their heads because their approach was an utter failure here," Brown said after garnering more than 50 per cent of the vote. The Liberal "smear" campaign was one of misinformation, Brown said, noting he marched in Toronto's Pride Parade.
"Frankly, she tried to make social issues a part of the election campaign and no one except for Kathleen Wynne seemed to want to talk about any of these issues. Right now we're focused not on revisiting issues of the past, we're focused on creating jobs...on making Ontario prosperous."
Deputy premier Deb Matthews sent a letter to 47,000 homes in Simcoe North noting Brown voted in Parliament "to take away the right of same-sex couples to marry and...to examine changes to the Criminal Code to eliminate a woman's right to choose."
Matthews also pointed out that Progressive Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop, who resigned his Simcoe North seat so Brown could run, had criticized the Tory leader for opposing an update to Ontario's sex-education curriculum. She said Dunlop's resignation "shows there's no room left for moderates in Patrick Brown's extreme-right PC party."
But despite the Liberal attacks, Brown had been widely expected to win in a riding his predecessor held for 16 years, and is next door to his old federal riding.
During the leadership race Dunlop was one of Brown's most outspoken critics, but struck a much more conciliatory tone when resigning his seat for the leader, and came out swinging Thursday against the Liberals.
"Deb Matthews should hide her head in shame for that stupid letter she sent," Dunlop said. "That backfired."
Brown said he is already formulating his first question for when the legislature resumes Sept. 14, but wouldn't reveal Thursday what it would be.
The policy areas in which Brown has been most critical of the Liberal government — the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, the partial sale of Hydro One and the new sex education curriculum — are all but done deals.
The legislature has already passed the enabling legislation for the ORPP and the Hydro One privatization and the new curriculum will roll out when classes resume.
Brown said his priorities at the legislature will be Ontario's energy prices, cutting red tape and manufacturing.
He was also critical of Wynne's role in campaigning for federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, saying Ontario doesn't need a "part-time premier."
Wynne released a statement congratulating Brown on his win.
"Patrick Brown and I have different views on many important issues facing our province," she wrote.
"Now that he has earned the opportunity to sit in the legislature, I look forward to debating these issues with Mr. Brown when the legislature returns later this month."
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