Ontario PC leader says party's new centrist approach will win parts of Hamilton

Tim Hudak's pledge to cut 100K public sector jobs was "foolish," Patrick Brown said in Flamborough.

Tim Hudak's pledge to cut 100K public sector jobs was 'foolish,' Patrick Brown said in Flamborough

PC leader Patrick Brown talks to Flamborough Chamber of Commerce president Kyle Hampson, left, and executive director Arend Kersten, right, at a chamber lunch this week. Brown talked up some distinctly centrist philosophies there, and said his party intends to win the riding. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Ontario Conservatives think they can win Flamborough in the next election. And on Monday, leader Patrick Brown showed how he plans to do it — with a more centrist, more pro-union touch.

We're going to invest time here.- Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown

Brown said on a stop at Dutch Mill Country Market that the party has identified Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale — which as of 2018, will be redrawn into Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas and Flamborough-Glanbrook — as an area for the taking.

"This is a riding we're going to win in two years," Brown said. "Certainly our own tracking suggests that."

"We're going to invest time here because this is one of the ridings we fully intend to pick up."

Brown showed a glimpse of how he intends to do that during a Flamborough Chamber of Commerce lunch. The Conservative leader sounded distinctly more centrist than his party did in the last election. His comments to the media were pro-transit, pro-union, and pro-LGBT.

Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, centre, walks the route during Toronto's Pride Parade last June. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Former leader Tim Hudak's pledge to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs was "foolish," Brown said. "Any other issue that might have merited attention got lost."

He's tried to take a number of issues that were pretty toxic for the Conservatives in the last two elections off the table.- Peter Graefe , McMaster University political scientist

His party, he told local business owners, has no plans to cut public sector jobs, particularly since Ontario's population is projected to grow.

Brown also portrayed himself as having a friendlier relationship with unions.

"I've been to a lot of LiUNA functions locally," he said. "That's a different approach for the Progressive Conservatives."

Brown said his party would honour the funding commitment to LRT if city council still wanted it. And he talked up diversity.

"It doesn't matter who you love," he said. "It doesn't matter the colour of your skin. It doesn't matter how much money you have. You're welcome in the party."

Brown hopes a new logo will help his party's chances in the 2018 election. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

In March, Brown even told PC convention delegates that he supported putting a price on carbon, and that climate change is real and man-made. "No," called some in the audience.

He's going to have to do an awful lot to credibly get to a centre right or centre left position and I just don't think it's in his DNA.- Ted McMeekin , MPP, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale

Brown also released a new party logo at the convention that added red and green to the traditional blue, hoping it will improve his party's chances in 2018.

Brown's comments are more centrist than under Hudak's leadership, said Peter Graefe, a McMaster University political scientist. Targeting unions and public sector jobs made the Conservatives look like "an ideological party."

"He's tried to take a number of issues that were pretty toxic for the Conservatives in the last two elections off the table," he said.

The Conservatives, Graefe said, seem to be banking on the notion that people will be tired of the Liberals by 2018, but are overall happy with their province. They want to be a moderate alternative that won't make big change.

Brown has run farther right before. But Graefe said he "is now presenting himself as a moderate leader."

"The question is, can you really trust moderate Patrick Brown?"

Patrick Brown talks to businesses at a Flamborough Chamber of Commerce lunch. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Liberal Ted McMeekin currently represents Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. McMeekin stepped down as Minister of Municipal Affairs in June, citing the desire for gender parity in cabinet. It sparked rumours he was pondering retirement.

I have no reason to think I won't be running.- Ted McMeekin

McMeekin said Wednesday that his running in 2018 will depend on his health and the state of politics. But "I have no reason to think I won't be running."

The Conservatives targeted Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale "for the last 16 years – fortunately for me, unsuccessfully," McMeekin said.

"I'm confident if I get into another election that we'll do well."

McMeekin sees the Conservative move to the centre as being the result of polls and research.

"That's not bad," said McMeekin, who is now Premier Kathleen Wynne's parliamentary assistant. "I'm pleased to see him moving more toward where the current government is.

"He's going to have to do an awful lot to credibly get to a centre right or centre left position and I just don't think it's in his DNA."

Brown said his party will choose candidates for the Flamborough area next year.

Federally, Conservative MP David Sweet represents Flamborough-Glanbrook, while Liberal Filomena Tassi represents Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.