'Pure Bull': Ontario conservatives dismiss report of caucus infighting
Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and MPP Lisa MacLeod take time out from the Conservative convention to skate at the Rink of Dreams, in Ottawa, on Friday, March 4, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, March 4, 2016 6:50PM EST
Last Updated Friday, March 4, 2016 8:35PM EST
OTTAWA -- Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are putting on a united front as they gather in Ottawa this weekend for their first convention since Patrick Brown became their leader last year.
Brown's office dismissed a Toronto Star report about a "civil war" in the PC caucus, which said Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren was helping organize a nomination challenge against Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod.
MacLaren refused to comment on the situation as he arrived Friday for the convention, but said he was willing to discuss anything else.
MacLeod did not responded to requests for comment.
MacLaren, the former head of the right-wing Rural Landowners' Association -- who won his seat in the legislature by ousting 30-year veteran MPP and former cabinet minister Norm Sterling -- had backed Brown's leadership campaign last year, while MacLeod threw her support behind Christine Elliott after ending her own bid for party leader.
The two eastern-Ontario Tory MPPs went out of their way to downplay any rivalry as they co-hosted the opening ceremonies Friday night, taking a selfie together in front of the crowd to show there were no hard feelings.
"Our goal in the next election is to take the Liberals out of power, not one another," MacLeod told the cheering Tories.
MacLeod has admitted in recent online postings that she's torn about which riding to run in for the 2018 election, when redistribution will see her riding split essentially in half. Similar riding boundary changes in the past have often pitted sitting MPPs from the same party against each other for their party's nomination.
Other Tories said there was nothing to the report of bitter dissension in the Conservative caucus.
"That's not even a landowners skirmish," said John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. "We've had worse fights over the kitchen table."
"That's pure bull," said deputy PC leader Steve Clark of Leeds-Grenville, another eastern Ontario riding. "There's not a hang nail of truth there."
In his brief remarks Friday, Brown told delegates the party would embark on an important re-branding exercise at the convention and would kick-start a campaign platform development process that would be designed by party members.
"The process that we will unveil tomorrow will be the greatest grassroots engagement we've ever seen a political party undertake in Canada," Brown said.
There was only weak applause from the hundreds of delegates at the opening ceremonies when the name of former PC Leader Tim Hudak was raised. Hudak is the only member of the Conservative caucus not at the convention, citing a previous commitment in his riding.
Brown's first convention since winning the Ontario leadership last May is also the first opportunity for the would-be contenders to become federal Conservative leader to test the waters with a large group of party faithful and potential leadership voters. Conservative MP Kellie Leitch was working the hallways looking for support among the PC delegates.
Former leadership candidate and Conservative MP Tony Clement will co-host a hospitality suite Saturday night with MPP Norm Miller, who represents the same Parry Sound-Muskoka riding.
"I guess that means Tony has ruled out running," Miller said with a smile.