Two leaders of Ontario's Christian right say Patrick Brown told them privately last year that he was against abortion and same-sex marriage – contrary to the Progressive Conservative Leader's public positions on those subjects.
Jack Fonseca of the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition and Charles McVety of the evangelical Canada Christian College say Mr. Brown told them not to believe media interviews in which he proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage and vowed not to meddle in abortion access in the province. Mr. Brown denies he changed his position in the private exchanges.
The allegations come amid a political firestorm around Mr. Brown over his changing views on the province's sexual-education curriculum and his courting of social conservatives – a demographic he wooed during his leadership campaign last year, and which helped him win.
Mr. McVety allowed The Globe to read a text message exchange in which Mr. Brown told him he has "never" supported same-sex marriage or the province's updated sexual-education curriculum and that a "Toronto Life article misquoted me left right and centre" when the magazine asked Mr. Brown about those topics.
"He was telling us one thing, but then telling the media another. He's been playing this cat-and-mouse game all along," Mr. McVety said in an interview. "This is a pattern of his."
On Thursday, Mr. Brown did not deny the text exchange, but said Mr. McVety misunderstood. He also denied ever telling Mr. Fonseca and Mr. McVety that he held different views on abortion or same-sex marriage than he had said publicly.
"No, no. That is incorrect. I have said privately and publicly: When it comes to same-sex marriage, I support marriage equality," he told The Globe and Mail. "In terms of abortion, it's the same thing. I've said I will not change the status quo and I will oppose any effort to do so as Premier. I've told them that privately and publicly."
Asked to explain the texts, Mr. Brown said there was "confusion" on Mr. McVety's part over what Mr. Brown was trying to say in the texts. Mr. Brown said he was only opposed to the sex-ed curriculum at the time, but not to same-sex marriage.
Mr. Brown would not answer questions about his apparent assertion in the texts that Toronto Life "misquoted" him on sex-ed. The new revelations come amid a flap over a controversial letter in which Mr. Brown promised to "scrap" the province's new sexual-education curriculum. Mr. Brown denies writing the letter, which was distributed to voters in Scarborough ahead of a by-election earlier this month.
Mr. Fonseca says that, during the PC leadership race, Mr. Brown sought his endorsement by pointing to his anti-abortion voting record when he was a federal MP. In 2012, Mr. Brown voted in favour of a motion in the House of Commons to re-open the nation's abortion debate by ordering a study on when life begins. Motion 312 was defeated, with many prominent Conservatives, including then-prime minister Stephen Harper, voting against it.
"He said to me 'Look at my voting record. That's who I am.' He has a 100-per-cent pro-life voting record in the House of Commons," Mr. Fonseca said in an interview. "So we endorsed him."
Meanwhile, in media interviews Mr. Brown made it clear he had no political intention to revisit abortion laws.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail shortly before he launched his leadership bid in the fall of 2014, Mr. Brown said of abortion: "I will not change the status quo and I will oppose any effort to do so," adding later: "We're not going to change the status quo we have in Ontario today in any fashion."
Asked about his support for Motion 312, Mr. Brown told The Globe he did not know why he voted for it: "We have probably four or five hundred votes a year in the House of Commons … I think it would be difficult to analyze every vote."
Mr. Fonseca says he confronted Mr. Brown about these comments, and Mr. Brown claimed he had been misquoted.
"[His comments] were not something that anyone expected to come out of the mouth of an MP with a perfect pro-life voting record," Mr. Fonseca said. "I challenged him on it … he said he was misquoted."
Mr. McVety says Mr. Brown told him a similar story in relation to a Toronto Life interview in which Mr. Brown endorsed same-sex marriage and the updated sex-ed curriculum.
In the Toronto Life story, published shortly after Mr. Brown became leader in May, 2015, Mr. Brown said "my thinking has evolved over time, and I now support same-sex marriage." Mr. Brown was also quoted saying he was "comfortable with teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity," key parts of the governing Liberals' updated sex-ed curriculum.
Mr. McVety says that when he asked Mr. Brown about these comments, Mr. Brown denied ever saying them.
In the text exchange, which Mr. McVety showed The Globe, Mr. McVety told Mr. Brown that his conservative base would be unhappy to hear that the new leader was "espousing support for teaching gender identity, sexual orientation and same-sex marriage."
"I never have," Mr. Brown texted back, according to screen grabs of the exchange. "Toronto Life article misquoted me left right and centre … We complained to Toronto Life a month ago."
In another section of the exchange, Mr. Brown wrote that "we are against sex-ed reforms."
Mr. McVety said Mr. Brown also told him that he planned to print one million anti-sex-ed leaflets to be distributed across the province.
On Thursday, Mr. Brown told The Globe that he had never disavowed his support for same-sex marriage with Mr. McVety. Instead, Mr. Brown said, his texts referred only to his comments on teaching gender identity in the sex-ed curriculum. Mr. Brown said he did not support the new curriculum at the time of his exchange with Mr. McVety, but subsequently changed his mind.
"Charles knows and has known for a long time that I support marriage equality. The confusion wasn't over that. It was over the gender identity part of the sex-education curriculum," Mr. Brown said. "My opinions on the sex-ed curriculum have evolved from where they were a year and a half ago."
Asked if he still maintained he had been misquoted by Toronto Life on his support for teaching gender identity, Mr. Brown said he didn't have the article in front of him.
"We're talking about something a long time ago," he said.
Mr. Brown added: "What counts is where I stand now. As Premier, I'm not going to change the status quo on abortion. As Premier, I would oppose any attempt, unequivocally, that anyone would attempt to change."
Mr. Brown won the party leadership in large part by courting social conservatives and stoking anger over sex-ed. When the results of the leadership race were unveiled at an Etobicoke convention centre, a large contingent of evangelical voters gathered on Mr. Brown's side of the room exclaimed "Thank you, Jesus" and "Change is coming."
After his victory, Mr. Brown moved swiftly to remake himself as a "modern conservative." He marched in the Toronto Pride parade, dropped his public opposition to sex-ed and embraced a carbon tax to fight climate change.
Then, ahead of a by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River earlier this month, the letter under Mr. Brown's signature promising to "scrap" the sex-ed curriculum surfaced in the riding. When its existence was first uncovered by The Toronto Sun, Mr. Brown initially defended the missive. But several days later, he disavowed the letter, claiming it had been written by over-zealous local campaign volunteers without his knowledge.
The Canadian Press, however, obtained an e-mail exchange between Mr. Brown's chief of staff, Nicolas Pappalardo, and an anti-sex-ed activist, discussing the letter several days before it was released.
Another e-mail exchange between Mr. Brown and Mr. Fonseca during the leadership campaign, published this week by the Sun, showed Mr. Brown promising "I will repeal it!" when asked about the sex-ed curriculum.
After that revelation, Mr. Brown put out a statement confirming he used to oppose the sex-ed curriculum but saying he had changed his mind.
Both Mr. Fonseca and Mr. McVety say Mr. Brown's multiple conflicting positions make it difficult to believe anything he says.
"That letter for Scarborough-Rouge River was dated August the 24th, so when did he change his views? On the 25th? The 26th? September 1st? Come on," Mr. Fonseca said. "He's a weathervane conservative. His policy is set by the prevailing winds, and he doesn't believe in anything himself."
Said Mr. McVety: "I think he really wanted to have one foot in one camp and the other foot in the other. But he ended up stumbling all over his tongue."