Hours after a Progressive Conservative MPP apologized for comments about his party’s willingness to advance social issues, PC leader Patrick Brown has said that he “will not tolerate” socially conservative sentiments from members of his caucus.
In a year-end interview with AM980’s Andrew Lawton Wednesday afternoon, Brown was asked whether social conservatives have a place in his party–and whether MPPs in his caucus would be allowed to vote freely on conscience issues.
Brown said that he welcomes candidates and votes from all backgrounds, but drew a line in the sand on the issues that he’ll allow to be raised under the PC Party banner.
“I don’t mind what people’s private religious views are,” Brown said, referencing his Catholic background, “But, you know, what you do on Sunday–whether you go to a mosque, a synagogue, a church–(is) none of my business, it’s none of the government’s business. What I’m saying, though, is my focus is going to be on the fiscal incompetence of this government.”
Brown referred to social issues as “divisive” and restated his belief in gay rights and equal marriage, not specifically addressing abortion and sex education.
The PC Party has found itself on the defensive with social issues in the past, such as when anti-sex ed messaging was used in a Scarborough by-election, and most recently when 19-year old social conservative Sam Oosteroff won a Niagara-area by-election.
This week, Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls came under fire after audio was posted of him telling a group of Christian supporters that “social issues are very, very important. We need to form government, then watch us go…watch us go.”
Nicholls apologized Wednesday morning, after Brown demanded a retraction.
“I retract and apologize for my comments of last week,” Nicholls said. “I fully support the direction the leader is taking our party.”
Brown disputed that appealing to social conservatives was central to Oosterhoff’s nomination and election, and also denied courting social conservatives in his own pursuit of the PC Party leadership, calling it “a narrative that maybe some of the left wing media have presented.”
In the interview, Lawton asked Brown whether MPPs in his caucus could vote their conscience on any legislation put forth by the Liberal or New Democratic parties, which Brown said would be little more than “bait.”
“If the Liberals are trying to bait us, if the Liberals are trying to bring in diversion tactics to take the attention off their own record…that’s not that Ontario wants to talk about,” he said. “And we as conservatives have to be smarter than being baited.”
Brown later doubled down, intimating that PC MPPs would not be allowed free votes on these issues.
“I have encouraged more free votes. I’ve had more free votes than the two other parties at Queen’s Park, but what I will not tolerate is–we’re going to have a very strict focus on fiscal issues,” Brown said. “And if someone’s trying to push a specific social issue, it will not be welcome. If someone’s trying to revisit a divisive social issue, it will not be welcome and it will not be condoned by me.”
Listen to the section of Patrick Brown’s appearance on the Andrew Lawton Show here: