In politics, showing up counts. And there’s no politician that realizes this more than Patrick Brown.
The Ontario Progressive Conservative leader won his post largely by going to almost every community meeting, festival and gathering bigger than a toddler’s birthday party.
And since taking over the PCs, Brown has tried to shed the party’s socially conservative image by twice marching in Toronto Pride and expressing official support for the updated sex ed curriculum.
But Brown’s commitment to sex ed came under question during the Scarborough-Rouge River by-election when a letter signed by Brown was sent out to 13,000 people stating that, if elected, a Progressive Conservative government would repeal the curriculum.
After a weekend of dithering and defending the letter, Brown did a complete turnaround, disavowing the letter and recommitting his party to sexual education and LGBT rights.
Voters would be forgiven for doubting Brown’s convictions on either front. After all, he voted against gay marriage as a federal Conservative MP and courted sex ed opponents during his leadership run, going so far as to address protesters on the lawn of Queen’s Park.
So what to make of Brown so far?
The knock on him is that he’s a political huckster, willing to say or do whatever it takes to get elected. Brown would likely respond that he’s a pragmatic, solutions-oriented conservative who will implement good ideas regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum.
And since his arrival in the Ontario legislature, there has been some evidence of that. Shortly after he was elected, the PCs voted in favour of banning conversion therapy for children. Progressive Conservative MPPs were broadly supportive of Cy and Ruby’s Act, an NDP bill that looked to equalize parenting and adoption for queer and trans families. Social conservative stalwarts like Monte McNaughton, he of the “little pink tent,” haven’t had the outsized influence under Brown that many had feared.
But that doesn’t mean Brown should be trusted.
In his apology following his sex-ed snafu, Brown wrote that he believes, “It’s important to admit mistakes when they happen.” If that’s really the case, he should keep up his LGBT outreach effort by apologizing for his many votes against queer and trans rights.
He should apologize for voting to reopen the debate on equal marriage in 2006, instead of pushing the blame onto Stephen Harper’s platform. After all, there were Conservative MPs that voted to uphold gay marriage.
He should apologize for voting against adding gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code, then saying that “we have more important things to deal with.”
He should apologize for speaking at the home of Jagdish Grewal, the former federal Conservative candidate who was fired by the party for making homophobic comments and supporting conversion therapy. That was just this summer.
And if Brown is willing to acknowledge his past mistakes, he should then put his political capital where his mouth is and push the government on LGBT issues.
In Ontario, people with HIV are still being imprisoned for not disclosing their status. Queer and trans families do not have the same rights as cis and straight families. LGBT youth are experiencing homelessness at an unacceptable rate.
If it’s difficult for you to imagine a Progressive Conservative government taking the lead on any of these issues — well, that’s kind of the point.
After all, it was the last PC government under Mike Harris that cut funding to queer youth programs, undermined the public housing system and persecuted trans Ontarians by delisting sexual reassignment surgery from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
Brown and the Progressive Conservatives should absolutely keep attending Pride. But if they want their previously homophobic and transphobic policies and positions to be forgiven, they’ll need to do more than march.
Showing up counts. But then you actually have to do something.