‘I will lead us to victory:’ Patrick Brown launches bid for federal Conservative party leadership

By John Marchesan and The Canadian Press

Patrick Brown launched his bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada on Sunday, promising to deliver the election victory that has eluded the party for the past decade.

In a kickoff speech aimed at addressing elements of the party’s base which proved to be Erin O’Toole’s downfall, Brown said he was looking to build a party rooted in values and principles while healing fractures that have erupted in the past three years.

“The Conservative party that I am fighting for is one that is principled and inclusive. I want people who have never voted Conservative and have voted for other parties to feel welcome in our family,” he said. “I want people who have been turned off by recent Conservative infighting to get inspired and fight alongside me for a better vision for our country. I will do this and we will win.”

Brown is the fifth candidate to enter the leadership race, which includes former federal Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest and Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, the perceived front-runner. Rookie Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis and Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber are also running.

Another potential candidate, Peter MacKay – who finished runner-up to O’Toole in the 2020 leadership race – announced in a video message posted to social media on Saturday that he would not be running this time.

The 43-year-old Brown served as a city councillor in Barrie, Ont., before making the leap to federal politics in 2006, becoming MP for the region in former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.

In 2015, the three-term MP who had served primarily as a backbencher, elected to leave federal politics in order to run for the leadership of the Ontario PC party, where he surprised many by defeating front-runner Christine Elliott.

Then, months before the 2018 provincial election, allegations of sexual misconduct were levied against Brown by CTV News. Brown vehemently denied the accusations which have never been proven in court. After initially promising to stay in the job, he resigned the next day and within weeks was kicked out of caucus.

Brown returned to the political arena later that year, becoming the mayor of Brampton.

In advance of his announcement Sunday, Brown settled his $8 million defamation lawsuit against CTV, clearing a dark cloud that had threatened to hang over his campaign. While no money is believed to have changed hands, the network has acknowledged details of its 2018 report were “factually incorrect and required correction.”

In his speech Sunday, he offered the controversy as an example of his fighting spirit.

“I know what it takes to keep fighting when everyone comes against you, and still win. When the media tried to make me cancel culture’s latest victim by smearing me with false allegations, I fought back and won.”

Known within the party as a hardworking organizer, Brown’s political roots in Brampton will be key for federal Conservatives who know they need to grow their support in the seat-rich Greater Toronto Area if they hope to form the next government.

In his speech, he made a pitch to rebuild trust with Canada’s “cultural communities,” a voter base who call the country’s largest cities and suburbs home.

“Brampton has been a Liberal fortress three elections in a row and I’ve built a winning coalition here as a Conservative. As a provincial leader I’ve won byelections in areas the Conservatives didn’t exist in years. Mark my words, with me as Conservative party leader there will no longer be free passes for Liberal seats in suburban Canada, in fact with me there will be no safe Liberal seats anywhere.”

He promised to do that without sacrificing seats in western or rural Canada, and suggested the party needs to stop treating Conservative members in the west “like an ATM and start delivering election victories.”

Brown’s speech touted his opposition to Quebec’s Bill 21, a controversial secularism law in that province that prohibits public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job. He also singled out Poilievre and what he calls his “position against religious freedom.”

“Pierre Poilievre supported two discriminatory policies from the 2015 Conservative Party election campaign; the niqab ban and the barbaric cultural practices tipline,” said Brown in a statement. “He has never once spoken out against these policies.”

“Pierre has no credibility announcing any sort of policy which largely impacts minority communities, such as immigration, because he’s never publicly stood against policies that disproportionately impact them.”

As Brampton’s mayor, Brown spearheaded a plan for cities to pledge money to help fund a legal challenge of the law.

He also condemned the Conservatives’ promises for a barbaric cultural practices hotline and a niqab ban during the 2015 election as an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and normalize intolerance. Those policies were the reason Conservatives lost that race against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he said.

“A winning Conservative party led by me will passionately fight for our core Conservative value of protecting religious freedom. We will proudly lean into it. We will win and we will end the Liberal Party practice of tokenizing diverse Canadians. The Conservative party will win while proudly standing against Bill 21.”

Brown also addressed the main concern raised about his candidacy by party membership: his support for carbon pricing during his time as leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario.

Many party members reject carbon pricing as an ineffective “tax,” including Poilievre, who has vowed to repeal the federal consumer carbon price and attacked Brown over his support of the policy.

Just before Brown announced his leadership candidacy, Poilievre’s team launched an attack ad with the tag line “Patrick Brown will say and do anything,” pointing out his inconsistent position on environmental policy.

“Past attempts by conservative parties in Canada to address climate change, including one that I led, haven’t been done with consultation with our membership or caucus,” he said.

“Trust me from experience, I can definitely admit that is not the right approach.”

He said, if elected leader, the party would decide on its environmental policy collectively.

“I’m confident that together we can come up with a winning position, one that addresses climate change and respects provincial jurisdictions, energy security, energy sector workers, while keeping life affordable,” he said.

Candidates have until April 19 to enter the race and until June 3 to submit membership applications. The new leader will be elected Sept. 10.

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