Analysis

Ontario's Patrick Brown answers nagging question: what would he do as premier?

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown on Saturday released the platform he hopes will get him elected premier of Ontario when the province votes next June. He has a lead in the polls, but until now Brown hadn't made any big campaign promises to voters.

Party members say Brown will set a positive example for Canada if he gets to lead Ontario

PC Leader Patrick Brown addresses the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party convention, in Toronto on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown is trying to kick Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne out of power when the province holds an election next June and this past weekend marked a pivotal point in achieving that goal.

At a party gathering in Toronto Saturday that drew about 1,500 members from across the province, Brown released the party's election platform. It's in the form of a slick-looking magazine titled "People's Guarantee."

The cover features a close-up photo of Brown surrounded by a list of his five key campaign promises: income tax cuts, child care cost rebates, money for mental health, lower hydro bills and a new law on government accountability.

Brown, whose party leads the Liberals in polls, has a solid shot at taking the unpopular premier's job but, until now, he's said little about what he would do if he was in charge of Canada's biggest province.

Party officials and members say with this platform they've now answered the nagging question most often posed by Queen's Park journalists, critics and voters: What is Brown's plan? 

The PC leader laid out the core platform pledges in a speech Saturday afternoon and theatrically signed a giant board with a promise not to seek a second mandate if he doesn't implement them in his first term.

The platform makes more than 100 other promises, some clearly aimed at voter's pocketbooks such as tax credits for winter tires and children's arts and sports programs and dental coverage for low-income seniors. Brown also promises to lower small business tax rates, put a moratorium on school closures and scrap the province's cap-and-trade program in favour of a price on carbon.

But he also plans to keep many Liberal initiatives including tuition rebates, expanded prescription drug coverage, and the government's plan for selling pot.

MPPs happy Brown released plan so early

Julia Munro, MPP for York Simcoe, said it was a significant day for Brown, who will be fighting his first election as party leader.

"He demonstrated his commitment, his enthusiasm and recognition of how important it is to provide a picture of what Ontario will be like under a Patrick Brown government," Munro said shortly after her leader's speech.
The Ontario Progressive Conservative platform for the 2018 election features a signed 'guarantee' from party leader Patrick Brown that if he fails to bring in his five key promises in his first term in office, he will step down. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Munro is retiring, leaving Caroline Mulroney as the PC candidate in the riding. For PCs running in the province in the 2018 election, there is now a physical document to point to when voters ask about their plans.

It's really nice now to segue from all of the things that the Liberals have done wrong to how we are going to correct the mistakes that have been made- Todd Smith, MPP for Prince Edward-Hastings

Todd Smith, MPP for Prince Edward-Hastings, said that will be helpful and that this weekend was a pivot point for the party. They can now shift from just criticizing the government to proposing what they would do differently, he said.

"It's really nice now to segue from all of the things that the Liberals have done wrong to how we are going to correct the mistakes that have been made," Smith said on Monday.

He supports the decision to release the platform, which contains more than 140 promises in total, six months ahead of the election, and said it will help raise Brown's profile.

"I think it was important for Patrick to get some of his policies out there and the platform out there so people could wrap their head around who this guy really is," said Smith.

Even though the 39-year-old is a career politician (he was elected a city councillor in Barrie when he was 22 and later was a Member of Parliament), he is not a household name in Ontario.

Working on Brown's image

The party has been working on changing that, including running a campaign of TV ads featuring Brown talking about overcoming a speech impediment as a child.

He gave a recent interview to the Toronto Star as part of a profile of the PC leader, in which he talked about how he doesn't drink alcohol, but guzzles Red Bull for breakfast, likes watching Veep and Stranger Things on Netflix and how dating has taken a backseat to his political career.

I can go out and say this is what the PC party is going to bring to Ontario- Joan Park, party member

While Brown has rubbed some party members the wrong way, particularly over his carbon tax pledge, others say he's gaining their trust and respect.

"Today, I was impressed," said Gurdip Atwal after hearing Brown's speech.

Brown seemed comfortable, said Atwal, and he liked what the party leader is promising Ontario voters.

"I think this is definitely going to be the turning point," Atwal said about the weekend gathering.

Ruth Anne Campbell, another party member, said Brown showed his personality during the speech and she was "relieved" to see him less stiff than he has appeared in TV ads and interviews.

Brown 'coming into his own'

"I think he's coming into his own — and I'm delighted," said Campbell.

Campbell and her friend Joan Park said they were leaving the PC gathering feeling energized and confident about Brown.
Joan Park, left, and Ruth Anne Campbell, say they were feeling confident about leader Patrick Brown after leaving the Ontario PC party gathering. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

"I am ready now to go out and sing from the same hymn book," said Park. "I can go out and say this is what the PC party is going to bring to Ontario."

Geneviève Tellier, a political studies professor at University of Ottawa, said Brown can use the platform to introduce himself to voters who don't yet know him.

"It's like a business card," she said. The leader can use it to open discussions about what he would do as premier, but Tellier also said Brown has some work to do.

"We don't have a sense of his general vision for the province," said Tellier. "The big picture, I think it's still missing."

She said the platform shows Brown is listening to the needs of Ontarians, but it's reactive, not necessarily pro-active and offering new ideas.

"What kind of leader will he be? I'm not sure that's revealed by this document," she said.

Liberals say Brown misleading voters

Critics, like deputy premier Deb Matthews, said Monday that Brown's platform fails to tell voters what spending the PCs would cut in order to pay for their promises.

Matthews also took aim at Brown's character and is warning voters not to trust him.

"We've seen Patrick Brown promise anything to get elected and then do a 180 as soon as he gets elected," Matthews told reporters.

But party members say Ontarians, and Canadians, will get to know Brown over the coming months, and that they will like what they see.

"I think Ontarians will resonate with our plan as well as Canadians. We are the economic engine still of Canada and I'm looking forward to people getting to know Patrick Brown better," MPP Michael Harris said.

Party member Carmen Wilson left the party get-together Saturday feeling good about her leader's chances of getting the Liberals out of power after 14 years.

She said Brown as premier will lead a responsible government that will "set an example" for all of Canada.

"His platform is in the right direction for our country," said Wilson. "Ontario will lead the way for the rest of the country and show the country how things should be done."
PC party member Carmen Wilson said Patrick Brown, if elected Ontario premier, will set a good example for all of Canada. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

About the Author

Meagan Fitzpatrick

Reporter

Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitzpatrick_m