Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
The perceived front-runner in the race to lead the Progressive Conservatives stopped in Stratford Friday to rally support for her campaign and for the beleaguered party as it starts to rebuild after a crushing defeat to the Liberals in the last election.
Christine Elliott met with about two dozen members of the public during a brief reception at the Arden Park. She said she is planning stops in communities throughout the province leading up to the PC leadership vote and sees the months ahead as an opportunity for a new beginning.
"I want to talk with Ontarians from all walks of life to find out about what they're looking for in a leader and in the PC Party moving forward,” she told the Gazette. "What I think we need to do to win the next election is to build a big blue tent, and anyone who shares our Progressive Conservative values is welcome."
Political pundits have Elliott, the MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, as the candidate to catch in a leadership field that also includes members of parliament Vic Fedeli (Nipissing), Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton), Monte McNaughton (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex), and Patrick Brown (Barrie), and recent high-profile endorsements from former Premier Bill Davis and recent Toronto mayoral candidate and, up until this week, presumed PC leadership hopeful Doug Ford, have done little to quiet the talk.
Elliott, for her part, said it's far too early to be making any assumptions, adding that, at the end of the day, it will boil down to which candidate is able to rally the most supporters. Party members will vote by preferential ballot in early May and the results will be announced at the party's leadership convention in Toronto May 9.
Elliott pulled no punches when talking about what went wrong in the June 12 election, when the Tories, under former leader Tim Hudak, lost nine seats while Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals were handed a majority government.
She said many in the party were not informed about the details of the party's election platform, most notably Hudak's pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, until they were announced.
She said the highly controversial plan, which was resoundingly rejected at the polls, was "toxic" to the party. "We went through significant loss, and it was disappointing and frustrating for all of us," Elliott added.
Elliott said she is cognizant of the rebuilding that needs to take place within the party, and said that starts with making sure the mistakes that were made in the last election are not repeated. She said party has to do a better job involving more members in policy development, suggesting the party can ill afford to alienate supporters at the grassroots level who “form the backbone of our campaign teams.”
She added the party has policy advisory committees but they need to be “reinvigorated.” Elliott was joined in Stratford by Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, whom she credited with being a strong voice for the riding at Queen’s Park.
Elliott said one issue affecting Perth-Wellington that she’s heard from her colleague is that the agricultural community in this area feels neglected by the Liberal government. She said this past week’s announcement that the Liberals will look to limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides will only hurt the farming community further.
Elliott is also the Progressive Conservative’s health critic, a portfolio that she said she is passionate about and pleased to continue working on throughout the leadership race. She said there are many serious issues facing Ontario’s health system, including a lack of long-term care options for seniors and access to new drugs.
She added that she is also worried about ongoing service cuts under the Liberals, citing less government funding for things like physiotherapy and blood-sugar test strips for diabetics as two examples.
"The Liberals keep saying that they are expanding health care, but the reality is, if you take a look at different communities, they're really cutting it back,” she said.