Brampton mayor and Conservative Party leadership candidate Patrick Brown’s claim that he’s accepting of social conservatives is being challenged by some rivals, who point to his 2018 book in which he called social conservatives “dinosaurs.”
“Of course there’s a place for all conservatives in the conservative family,” Brown said on CTV’s Question Period on May 15.
“You’ll note that when I was the leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, there was a number of prominent social conservatives who got nominated during my time as Ontario Conservative Party leader, and certainly I value their place in the federal conservative family.”
MP Leslyn Lewis, the only candidate who has been endorsed by social conservative groups for the leadership race, challenged Brown’s claim using a passage from his book, “Takedown,” in which he makes a number of pejorative assertions about the socially conservative component within the conservative movement.
In the book, Brown was giving advice to his successor Doug Ford on how to deal with social conservatives.
“I would say to Ford that the social conservatives are dinosaurs who are becoming less and less relevant every single day. Ten years ago they would have been a real force, but I believe that their influence is waning with every year that passes,” he wrote.
“They are people yelling at the sky. They have influence in a political party because they are organized. But they are few in number and they are out of sync with a modern Ontario. And I don’t think that they represent conservatism of any stripe.”
Lewis said in a statement that she encourages Brown to fully retract his comments, “lest they become a stinking albatross for him in this Leadership race.”
Her comment was in reference to former Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay’s controversial remarks in 2019 that then-party leader Andrew Scheer’s socially conservative values were a “stinking albatross” that cost the Conservatives the 2019 federal election.
Lewis also addressed her other rivals on what place social conservatives would have in the party if they win the leadership, saying social conservatives can’t just be expected to donate and volunteer and not be able to voice their opinions.
“We can’t build a big tent of diverse people if we are afraid of discussing diverse ideas,” Lewis said, adding that the party under her leadership would allow everyone to table private member’s bills and vote according to their conscience.
Her fellow contender, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, also used Brown’s book to challenge his claim.
“More proof that Patrick Brown is a liar who will say and do anything,” he wrote on Twitter.
The debate surrounding social conservatives entered the leadership race more prominently after the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision in early May suggesting that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal at the federal level would be overturned, citing the need for state legislatures to govern the issue.
Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber also reacted, writing on Twitter that he doesn’t believe government “has a role in how people start or grow their families.”
“But I’ll respect the right of every Canadian to seek nomination, introduce legislation & vote freely on matters of conscience, regardless of their view on life,” he added.
Poilievre did not comment on the U.S. legislation, but his position on abortion is well-established and he has said he would not be in favour of pro-life legislation.
Lewis is the only pro-life candidate among the current leadership contenders. Activist group Campaign Life Coalition said it will be throwing all its weight behind her after other pro-life prospective candidates Joseph Bourgault and Grant Abraham did not obtain “verified” status by the race’s organizing committee.