Ontario Progressive Conservatives want to broaden their platform to appeal to those marginally committed Liberal voters and the undecided.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

December 4th, 2017



The Ontario Progressive Conservative party, much like its federal counterpart is regularly supported by less than half the voters. To win an election they must either hope for a strong NDP showing, to take votes away from the Liberals, so they can come up the middle. Or they could broaden their platform to appeal to those marginally committed Liberal voters and the undecided.

Patrick Brown Looking sideways

Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Opposition party.

The latter is exactly what newish PC leader Patrick Brown is doing. Coming out of a policy convention last weekend he tabled an extensive, if verbose, election platform, the ‘People’s Guarantee’ with 147 promises. It is a shopping list of promises that, in keeping with the season, might have been put together by Santa’s elves. Indeed the platform, for the most part, could have been written for the Liberals or NDP and is clearly designed to draw supporters in those parties over to the Tories.

After Harris and Hudak it is hard to imagine that an Ontario conservative could be so progressive. One could accuse Brown of wanting to spend like a drunken sailor, except for the fact that he is a tea-totaler. Though one has to wonder how he ended up with terminology typical of an alcoholic’s anonymous handbook – one hundred and forty seven promises.

Brown would cut taxes for the middle class by 22.5%, reduce electricity rates by another 12%, refund 75% of child care costs and allocate $1.9 billion into mental health care, in addition to introducing another unenforceable law – the “Trust, Accountability and Integrity Act”.

patrick-brown smiling

Patrick Brown – does he have a lot to smile about.

And there is more in a platform with spending that would make the current Liberals almost look like conservatives. For example there is $5 billion for new subways, 15,000 new long term care beds and a $500 rebate on buying winter tires. Plus he’d be keeping many Liberal programs such as youth pharma-care, free tuition for the needy, and offering a new seniors’ dental care plan.

That’s a lot of cash he’s promising to throw around and the document contains an itemized accounting of where it is coming from and where it is going. Of course it is an optimistic accounting, but aren’t they all? The Liberals are claiming that Brown is hiding $12 billion in sneaky cuts to healthcare, education and other social programs (page 76 of the ‘People’s Guarantee’). And they might be right but how would one know, since it is so difficult to navigate such a weighty and sprawling document, that few will even bother?

Brown is still very much an unknown commodity in the province. A career politician, he spent years on Stephen Harper’s backbench in Parliament, nursing all the right right-wing sentiments one expects of a good Harperite. But he is campaigning as a changed man – he’s seen the light and it’s called compromise – pandering to the softer side of humanity. He even claims to accept a woman’s right to choose and has embraced the LGBT crowd. And why wouldn’t all of this now be genuine? After all his father had run for the NDP a couple of times.


Patrick Brown has his work cut out for him – keeping his conservative base happy and making the Progressive Conservative tent big enough for others.

Will this be enough to win the pink palace? That will also depend in part on whether the public is ripe for a change of leadership. That is the prescription from the right wing media, though Brown may not exactly be the package they have in mind. And it will also depend on the competing platforms yet to roll out from the Liberals and NDP, and possibly the Greens – and whether they can find enough holes in Brown’s platform to shake his credibility.

Patrick Brown is paying for his income tax cuts with the cash rolling in from a new carbon tax he’ll introduce to replace Ontario’s current cap and trade climate change plan. That means for every dollar working folks will save in income taxes they’ll be using sixty or seventy cents of it just to fill up their cars – not quite the bonanza the income tax cuts seem at first blush.

Carbon taxes are sales taxes, regressive in that they affect those with lower incomes the most. And if they are effective in reducing carbon, the amount of revenue generated will start to fall, rather than rise as predicted. So if the carbon tax doesn’t bring in enough cash to cover everything on his extensive laundry list, expect to see the list get shorter – or watch the deficit and debt grow. There is no free lunch when it comes to balancing the budget.

Brown has taken his cue in economic and environmental policy from the federal government, first by adopting Trudeau’s prescribed carbon tax, and second by cutting the income taxes of those in the relatively lower income classes. This provides both a restraint and a stimulus to economic growth respectively. And that is an appropriate approach given that Ontario’s economy is booming and had outpaced the rest of the country last year – best in the G7.

Brown Patrick with headset

Now that he has a platform – the leader of the Opposition now has to get out on the road, get known and sell the book with 147 promises in it.

But with unemployment lower than it has been in almost two decades, priming the pump without also applying brakes will only lead to inflation. Good economic policy avoids trying to fix something which isn’t broken. And Ontario and Canada are both doing well economically.

But some folks just like to change horses every once in a while and they’re entitled – this is a democracy. And if we can believe what he says in his ‘People’s Guarantee’, Brown is a different kind of Progressive Conservative – one that Ontario has not seen since the days of Bill Davis. And that would make him more his socialist father’s son and less like the Grinch he used to work for.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

People’s Guarantee –      PC Convention –      147 Promises

PC Platform –      Cutting Taxes –      A Red Tory?

PC Plan to Win –      Who is Brown –      Brown isn’t Transparent?

Ontario PC –      Tax Plan Falls Short –      Ontario Polls

Ontario Economy –      Patrick Brown

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5 comments to Ontario Progressive Conservatives want to broaden their platform to appeal to those marginally committed Liberal voters and the undecided.

  • Jim

    Nice article and good summary on the platform, Ray! Thanks for making us not having to go read it. Something is fishy about this platform however. 99% of the time political parties, especially those not in government, don’t want to release their platform so far way from the writ being dropped. It allows the other parties to pick it apart or even cherrypick ideas. What bothers me about the platform is that it is too full of vote buying tactics. Sure a lot of those things are nice to have, but at what price? Do we want our children to pay for these expensive promises just so the PC’s can convince enough GTA voters to vote for them next election when really the only reason anyone needs is that Kathleen Wynne and the Liberal Dynasty needs to go. I’m not a member of any provincial party, but when Brown talks about lowering hydro rates and the political corruption of the McGuinty-Wynne years, he is dead on. Hudak’s changebook was a flop and so was his masterful 1 million job/100k job cut plan. Ontario doesn’t need more expensive promises, we just need better managers of taxpayer funds.

  • Luke

    I have corrected your typo in the lead line of this fantastic tale.

    The Ontario Liberal party, much like its federal counterpart is regularly supported by less than half the voters.

    You’re welcome.

  • Gary

    I loved your “if it is not broken, don’t fix it” adage. Such conservative philosophy is rare from you. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what he is promising or how insincere people think he may be, given his former Harper attachments.
    Most people no longer care what politicians promise (save and except funding religion and killing 100K jobs — alarming prospects). Voters generally have learned that only a small proportion of such promises will ever be fulfilled and, even if they are, they may end up not being what was expected (law of unintended consequences).

    He is not Dalton McGuinty or Kathleen Wynne and that will be enough to carry him over the goal line.

  • craig

    given that pat brown not elected as premier yet and has changed his mind on so many key issues so many times and given his historical views on various demographics find it hard to stomach a vote for him if eleTed it will be a anti-liberal protest vote not anyone believing a word pat brown says

  • Stephen White

    Come on Ray! It’s not that people want to “change horses every once in a while”. It’s that taxpayers are tired of this Liberal government that is lacking in credibility and integrity and totally bereft of leadership.

    We’ll put aside for a minute the cancelled gas plants fiasco, the flawed by-election in Sudbury, the deleted e-mails, the e-Health system, Air ORNGE, the feckless Green Energy Program, or the myriad of silliness and nonsense this government has pursued over the past 15 years. Just look at the ridiculous amount of money being wasted on senseless, feel good advertising on radio and television, and for what purpose? To tell us about programs that have been in place of years. So what?

    The fact that so many Liberal Cabinet Ministers (e.g. Glen Murray, Brad Duguid, Liz Sandals, Deb Matthews) are packing it in should tell you something. Rats are usually the first thing to leave a sinking ship!

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