TORONTO — A little-known federal Tory backbencher, Patrick Brown, is the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party after defeating deputy PC leader Christine Elliott.
Brown promised not to reopen the abortion debate, and dismissed a suggestion made by Elliott during the campaign that social conservatives would take over the party now that he’s leader.
The 36-year-old thanked many ethnic communities for supporting his campaign and also reached out to northern Ontario, francophones, teachers and public sector workers still angry over the party’s 2014 campaign pledge to cut 100,000 jobs.
“The first test of this leadership was to convince a majority of the members that I would be a pragmatic conservative that would lead our party to victory, and I think the size of my mandate here today proves that we’ve achieved that,” Brown said.
He defeated Elliott by more than 1,000 electoral points in the final count that assigned 100 points to every Ontario riding.
Brown sold more than 41,000 new PC memberships during the leadership race, more than half the party’s new total of 76,500 members, and said the once-mighty Progressive Conservatives are on their way back to power.
“We are younger. We are more diverse,” he said to cheers from the 800 party faithful that showed up at a Toronto convention centre to hear the results of voting that took place earlier in the week. “We represent more points of view, more communities, more languages, more neighbourhoods and more cultures than ever before.”
Elliott immediately asked the party members to make Brown the unanimous choice, and the majority of PC caucus members who supported her campaign moved to stand behind their new leader on the stage.
Brown said he would speak with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as soon as possible about resigning his seat in Parliament, but wouldn’t say when he would try to win a seat in the Ontario legislature other than it would be before the 2018 provincial election.
Brown, who is single, was elected to city council in Barrie, Ont., while still going to university and won a seat in the House of Commons in 2006 as a Conservative MP, but was never appointed to cabinet.
He doesn’t have a seat in the Ontario legislature, was supported by only five members of the PC caucus, and had virtually no provincial profile until he launched his leadership bid by attacking the Tory establishment he blames for four consecutive election losses.
Brown said he wasn’t involved in any of the PC’s past “policy disasters” such as the pledge to cut public sector jobs, and can bring a fresh start to the party.
“Labour leaders, public and private sector, were actively engaged in supporting my candidacy,” he said. “We had firefighters and nurses selling memberships.”
Brown also said his victory “bodes well” for his federal Conservative colleagues in their upcoming election later this year.
The governing Liberals compared Brown to the American right-wing Tea Party, while the New Democrats said the fact the Progressive Conservative leader doesn’t have a seat in the legislature makes them the real opposition party.
Brown will replace former PC leader Tim Hudak, who resigned shortly after the party lost its second election to the Liberals last June.
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