The Ontario Liberals were clearly hoping to tangle the Progressive Conservatives up in knots with a motion condemning Islamophobia, but they may have instead handed PC leader Patrick Brown a real opportunity.
Brown is vowing he will support the motion Thursday calling for the provincial legislature to "condemn all forms of Islamophobia" and will encourage his MPPs to support it too.
"One of the things I love about Ontario is it doesn't matter who you love, where you're born, what the colour of your skin is, what your faith is, you have a home here," Brown told a news conference Tuesday at Queen's Park.
"I hope we're always a province that aggressively opposes any form of hate or discrimination," Brown said, telling reporters he believes that Islamophobia is real.
"I will always stand in opposition to any form of hate," he said. "Right now, the threat of hate crimes targeted towards those of the Muslim faith is an immediate concern."
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The motion is similar to one before the House of Commons that is causing controversy within the federal Conservative Party, with some MPs and leadership candidates alleging the motion could stifle freedom of speech.
Despite the similarities between the two cases, neither Brown nor any of his MPPs are making such claims about the provincial Islamophobia motion. The Ontario PCs know they have nothing to gain politically by kicking up a fuss about a few words against religious hatred.
In fact, Brown is seizing the opportunity to try to show that he and his party believe in tolerance.
Brown sat on Stephen Harper's back benches in Ottawa for nine years before becoming the provincial party leader in 2015. He brushed aside questions about the federal motion and the friction it's causing within the Conservative Party.
The provincial motion was tabled Dec. 1, well before either the shooting that killed six in a Quebec City mosque or before U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Liberal MPP flags 'troubling comments'
It comes from the newest Liberal MPP, Nathalie Des Rosiers, who was the director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association before winning the Ottawa-Vanier byelection in November.
Des Rosiers denies she was trying to bait the PCs with her motion. But it's clear that she and the rest of Kathleen Wynne's Liberals noticed how the federal motion tossed a hand grenade into the federal Conservative camp.
"The debate on the federal motion has uprooted a number of troubling comments from the Conservative Party of Canada," wrote Des Rosiers in a letter to MPPs on the weekend.
Brown, meanwhile, is getting positive reviews from a range of commentators for his stance.
Warren Kinsella, for many years a federal and provincial Liberal strategist, called Brown's move smart.
"It's just a resolution, not legislation," wrote Kinsella on Tuesday. "It reflects what's been done many times in the past, on anti-Semitism, etc. It smartly avoids falling into the trap the CPC fell into."
Michael Chong, a federal Conservative leadership candidate, tweeted:
Ottawa Citizen columnist David Reevely tweeted yesterday: "Patrick Brown has a key advantage over some of his federal Tory cousins: He's not an idiot."
Brown has promised to make the Ontario PCs a more inclusive party. His victory in the PC leadership race was due in no small part to his efforts in signing up people from visible minority communities as party members.
Brown is hoping to replicate the success of the federal Conservatives in 2006, 2008 and 2011 by gradually prying seats away from the Liberals in diverse ridings in Toronto and the surrounding cities. Right now, all members of the PC caucus except MPP Raymond Cho are white.
Ontario motion to condemn Islamophobia (full text)
That, in the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario should reaffirm that diversity has always played an important part in Ontario's culture and heritage; recognize the significant contributions Muslims have made, and continue to make, to Ontario's cultural and social fabric and prosperity; stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance; rebuke the notable growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments; denounce hate-attacks, threats of violence and hate crimes against people of the Muslim faith; condemn all forms of Islamophobia and reaffirm its support for government's efforts, through the Anti-Racism Directorate, to address and prevent systemic racism across government policy, programs and services, and increase anti-racism education and awareness, including Islamophobia, in all parts of the province.
-MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers