News / Toronto

Patrick Brown admits courting social conservatives was a 'mistake'

Saying he wants to lead a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” party, PC Leader Patrick Brown now admits it was a “mistake” to court social conservatives.

Patrick Brown says he now regrets voting against same-sex marriage and abortion when he was a Conservative MP.

The Canadian Press

Patrick Brown says he now regrets voting against same-sex marriage and abortion when he was a Conservative MP.

Saying he wants to lead a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” party, PC Leader Patrick Brown now admits it was a “mistake” to court social conservatives.

Brown acknowledged for the first time Thursday that his office held secret negotiations with opponents of the updated sex-education curriculum before the Sept. 1 Scarborough-Rouge River byelection.

“I think it was a mistake to even have talks,” he told reporters at Queen’s Park.

The Progressive Conservative leader said he “didn’t feel comfortable” with a strategy that ultimately led to the Tories distributing 13,000 letters in Scarborough promising to “scrap” the sex-ed curriculum if elected in 2018.

“Clearly, I thought it was a mistake and that’s why I made my opinions unequivocally clear — prior to the byelection — in the op-ed in the Toronto Star,” he said, referring to his Aug. 29 article renouncing the letter and pledging to keep the updated lesson plan that teaches about gender expression and same-sex relationships.

While Tory Raymond Cho won the riding, the political fallout over the hush-hush talks between Brown’s office and social conservatives has lingered for three weeks.

Sources say there was a deep divide in his camp last month about making the move to appease the religious right with the letter signed by the leader.

“Patrick got cold feet. He was getting calls from his family, his downtown friends. They were telling him not to reopen this and that that isn’t who he is,” one PC insider told the Star.

But others felt the letter would help them to finally win a Toronto seat and send a positive signal to opponents of the curriculum, same-sex marriage and abortion, who had backed Brown in last year’s Tory leadership.

The leader declined to discuss the machinations.

“I’m not going to comment on internal team discussions,” he said.

However, Brown was not shy about blasting the social conservatives who backed him in the May 2015 leadership contest.

“Frankly, I’m very comfortable with the fact there’s been a falling out. I don’t lose any sleep over the fact that Charles McVety and Campaign Life are upset,” the PC leader said, adding he now regrets voting against same-sex marriage and abortion when he was a Conservative MP.

“If Charles McVety wants his ten bucks back for membership, he can have it. If he wants to vote for someone else, he can vote for someone else, so be it,” he said.

“Frankly, I think they take more credit for any part of my leadership campaign than is merited. I went out and signed up 45,000 members.”

McVety, president of Canada Christian College, on Thursday countered that Brown “knows that he won the leadership underhandedly.”

“We all know that Patrick campaigned for the leadership on the issue of opposing the radical sex-education curriculum. Patrick focused his membership drive on those who oppose the sex-ed, new Canadians and discontented parents,” the evangelist said.

“He spoke at our rally, sent out a letter and passionately argued against the curriculum on the Steve Paikin leadership debate program. He castigated Christine Elliott for supporting it,” he said.

“Poor Patrick. He can’t remember what he has promised and to whom, so he can’t keep his stories straight.”

In the Legislature’s daily question period, Liberals taunted Brown as he pressed Deputy Premier Deb Matthews on hydro rates, repeatedly chanting: “who wrote the letter?” as the flummoxed Tory chief stewed in his seat.

Matthews mocked him for “a historic flip-flop — four different positions — on a pretty important issue.”

“I think that is begging the question. What other secret promises have been made in the back rooms? Who know what deals have been made? It’s clear that the leader of the opposition is being kept in the dark — or so he claims,” she said.