The four remaining Ontario PC leadership contenders squabbled tonight over the future of Patrick Brown, with at least one saying the former leader should never be able to run under the Tory banner again.
During the last scheduled debate in Ottawa Wednesday, the leadership hopefuls differed on how best to handle the scandal-plagued Brown.
Candidate Tanya Granic Allen, an anti-sex ed campaigner, said Brown should be shown the door for good — not because of the sexual harassment allegations levelled against him but rather because of the “corruption” she said he allowed to fester in the party while leader, pointing to irregularities in some nomination races in ridings.
“You three still stand here and say you’re fine with it. I want you to say no and you won’t let Patrick Brown run under you,” she said. “Read my lips. He’s not running for me.”
Granic Allen said that, if she’s elected leader, she’d review nomination meetings where candidates were “bullied out of running” by Brown.
“Him and his team have abused their power,” she said. “This culture of doing what I want, when I want, was a pervasive mentality.”
Granic Allen accused rival Caroline Mulroney, who was nominated to run as a candidate last fall, of not doing enough to call out irregularities that accumulated under Brown’s leadership.
Murloney defended herself saying she urged Brown to step away from the race after the integrity commissioner launched a probe over an alleged failure to disclose rental income from a property.
Former Toronto mayoral candidate Doug Ford said Brown has to “take care of a few things” before he should be allowed to run again.
“Once I’m premier, or leader, I’ll sit down with him,” Ford said.
“I don’t know why we keep talking about Patrick Brown. I’m zoned in on [Ontario Premier] Katheen Wynne, I’m zoned in on being the next premier.”
Christine Elliott, who has run twice before for the top job, said she would sign Brown’s nomination papers to run in the Barrie-area riding he has represented in the past if he can clear his name before the June 7 provincial election.
“You don’t clear your name just because you say you’ve cleared your name,” she said. Speaking after the debate, Elliott said “objective evidence” needs to be brought forward for Brown to obtain full exoneration.
Granic Allen said it was hypocritical to give Brown a second chance while those who missed out on running for the Ontario PCs — because of alleged tinkering by Brown’s team — were given no recourse. “You all want due process for Patrick. But where’s the due process for candidates who were bullied out of running?”
Ford said there’s no doubt some fishy things went down on Brown’s watch. “Any nominations where there were [indiscretions] … no question they’ll be opened up,” he said.
He said he was at a nomination meeting in Scarborough Centre when the power went off and, when the lights came back on, he saw people running about with ballots in their hands. Mulroney said Ford should have taken action if he saw such a thing.
Ford, hitting back, said he did — and accused Mulroney of having been “parachuted” by Brown into a riding where she has no ties to the local people. “Maybe we should open up your nomination and get more competitors in there,” he said.
After the debate, Mulroney told reporters she had an open nomination and others could have stepped forward to challenge her bid to run in York-Simcoe.
“There were no deals made … no one was discouraged from running,” she said.
Brown dropped out of the race earlier this week — the leadership race that was prompted by his ouster in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. In explaining his decision to leave the race, Brown cited his desire to fight a legal battle against CTV News, the organization that first published the allegations.
The four candidates faced off in the last scheduled debate in Ottawa Wednesday, only days before members cast their votes in the race to replace Brown.
Brown wasn’t the only topic that saw the candidates clash. While all four have said they oppose the imposition of a carbon tax on the people of Ontario — with some vowing to work alongside other conservative-minded premiers to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his plan for a national price on carbon — there was no consensus on how best to tackle the challenge of climate change.
‘I’m going to rip the wind turbines out of the ground’
Granic Allen said she is prepared to “rip wind turbines out of the ground” because long-term deals signed by the provincial Liberal government have locked Ontario into contracts that set the price of electricity far too high.
Elliott said existing contracts should be honoured while pledging to review policies that have made hydro rates soar. She noted those rates have tripled since the Liberals took power, and promised to repeal the Green Energy Act.
“Of all the things that the Liberals have done to harm the province of Ontario, the mess that they have made of our electricity system ranks at the top. Every time you open your hydro bill you know what they’ve done. It’s a burden on families … and it’s chasing our businesses away,” Mulroney said, vowing she would lower bills for homeowners by 12 per cent.
Ford said the existing cap-and-trade system — a partnership between Ontario, Quebec and California — has been a net loss for the people of Ontario, sending cash to the U.S.
The party’s platform — the “People’s Guarantee,” developed under Brown’s leadership — was costed based on the assumption that a carbon tax would collect some $4 billion in to revenue to be used to pay for new spending promises.
When asked how they would fill that gaping fiscal hole, the candidates were vague.
“There’s so much waste you could sneeze and find billions of dollars in waste. The party with taxpayer dollars is over. They can take their lootbags and leave. Queen’s Park is politically corrupt from top and bottom,” Ford said.
Granic Allen said she would halt tax credits for those buying electric vehicles.
Elliott, a former bank auditor, said there is no question savings can be realized after the Liberals are out of office.
“I want to go line by line of 15 years of Liberal waste and mismanagement. I want to clean up Kathleen Wynne’s mess. I have taken Kathleen Wynne on at Queen’s Park many, many times, and I look forward to doing it again,” she said.
Opting out of sex ed
Granic Allen, who rose to prominence by standing against the sex ed curriculum changes brought about by Wynne, challenged the other candidates to support a policy that would allow parents to take their kids out of school when sex education is taught in the classroom.
Elliott said parents should be given advance notice of a lesson plan.
“They [parents] should know when these things are being taught and they should have the right for their child not to be in that class if they don’t want them to,” she said in an answer welcomed by Allen.
Ford jumped on that statement, accusing Elliott of flip-flopping on the contentious issue.
“People want to know what Christine they’re going to get. Are they going to get the Christine that’s for sex ed? Or the Christine that’s against sex ed?”
Elliott bristled at the suggestion. “Don’t make up stories, Doug. I have nothing to apologize to you about. You can check my record. My record shows I had the same view in 2015 as I have now.”
Mulroney, who has pitched herself as a moderate, said she would not re-open the sex ed curriculum — a statement that was met with scattered booing from the audience. “You know where I stand.”
Deadline to buy membership has passed
The deadline to buy a membership to vote for the party’s next leader has come and gone; the party is now verifying membership registrations before voting opens on March 2 and campaigns are busy trying to woo current members to back their candidates.
There’s no consensus on who is the frontrunner in this time-constrained leadership race.
According to data posted by Elections Ontario, Mulroney has raised in excess of $700,000.
Elliott has secured the most endorsements from Ontario PC MPPs.
Ford has claimed he’s had donations from more than 2,000 grassroots supporters and his Ford Nation coalition has swamped the party with new membership forms.
Granic Allen has strong support from the social-conservative wing of the provincial party.
The results of the leadership race will be announced on March 10 at a convention in Markham, Ont.