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Ontario Conservatives lay groundwork in race to replace Hudak

Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli speaks in Toronto on Feb. 21, 2013.

PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Patrick Brown has a website telling Ontario Progressive Conservatives why they should elect him their leader. He's got endorsements from more than 200 party supporters. He's even worked out his pitch, talking about bringing "generational change" to the organization.

So does all this mean the Barrie Conservative MP is entering the race to replace Tim Hudak?

"It's premature to speculate on when I may make a decision on whether to run or not," he said in an interview. "I'm going to take advantage of this time now and try to have an extensive conversation with our party grassroots and membership."

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Welcome to the Phoney War phase of the PC leadership race. While many conservatives in the province are contemplating bids, only one candidate – Deputy Leader Christine Elliott – has formally declared. The rest are largely waiting until the party executive sets the rules for the contest and picks a date, something that won't happen for at least a month, before jumping in.

But that hasn't stopped them from laying the groundwork for potential runs.

Mr. Brown's website, which he says was set up by a group of his friends, invites volunteers and donors to sign up. It also contains a lengthy list of people backing him, including 12 fellow MPs, senators, Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and scores of party rank-and-file.

"I've heard from members across Ontario, and they're tired of losing. They're looking for someone who knows how to win and can bring generational change to our party that we desperately need," the 36-year-old said. "I'm going to spend the next little while talking to as many people in the party as I can."

Vic Fedeli, the PCs' affable finance critic, is also sussing out support for his own potential candidacy. He's aiming to make a decision by the end of summer.

"I have been busy talking to supporters across the province trying to find out: do I have the support from them to do this?" the northern Ontario MPP told The Globe and Mail. "I've been answering calls and responding to emails on a daily basis. I'll be blunt: it's very humbling the amount of calls I've had from people that say 'Vic, we need you to step up and lead the party.'"

MPP Monte McNaughton says he's made "hundreds of calls" and has already lined up backers among current caucus members and former provincial cabinet ministers. He declined to name any of his supporters until he decides whether to throw his hat in the ring.

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If he runs, Mr. McNaughton says, his platform will focus on giving regular party members a greater say in decisions. The PCs must never again fail at election time, he said, because of unpopular policies foisted on the party by the leader's office, including John Tory's pledge to extend public funding to faith-based schools in 2007 or Tim Hudak's vow this year to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.

"One thing that we've done miserably is we've lost connection with average, everyday people. There's a disconnect between the leadership of our party and our PC party members," said Mr. McNaughton, who represents a southwestern riding near London. "We've gone through two of the last three campaigns that the party has had policies that have, frankly, come out of nowhere and the grassroots members did not support. We have to have party members have a bigger role in where the party goes from a policy standpoint."

Mr. McNaughton's new gig in the party – as critic for citizenship, immigration and international trade – also gives him a leg up, as it's expected to involve a lot of outreach, particularly among new Canadians, that will give him a chance to build up his rolodex.

Lisa MacLeod, for her part, has already got at least one very vocal supporter. Tory House Leader Steve Clark has been trying to build support for his caucus colleague, one of the PCs' highest-profile and most outspoken MPPs.

"I'm sure she'll make her decision at whatever time is appropriate for her," Mr. Clark said. "This is a great time for our party. It gives us a great opportunity for renewal."

Also considering runs are federal MP Rick Dykstra and Postmedia Chair Rod Phillips, a former CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporations and political staffer.

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Several federal cabinet ministers – John Baird, Lisa Raitt and Tony Clement – have not ruled out jumping in, but have sounded less enthusiastic about the prospect than Mr. Brown and Mr. Dykstra. Toronto Councillor Doug Ford has also been touted as a potential candidate but could face difficulty rallying support in a party that has tried to distance itself from his brother, Mayor Rob Ford.

At its last meeting, the party executive appointed a committee to consult with members and chew over rules and timing for the race. The committee reports back August 9, and the executive will make a decision sometime after that.

Like most of his fellow prospects, Mr. Brown is waiting on that process before getting launching a bid. But in the meantime, he will tell you eagerly, there's always that website.

"If anyone wants to learn more about who I am or get in touch with me," he said, "they can visit whypatrickbrown.com."

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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