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Harris backs Christine Elliot for new Tory leader

Conservative MPP Christine Elliott

Fresh off provincial election results that repudiated Tim Hudak’s approach, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris supports Christine Elliott’s bid to lead the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

“I know that Christine is a fiscal conservative and (has the) social compassion that I think we need to move our party forward,” Harris said. “She had a career in the private sector, and she has long been a champion of those with special needs, and she has a great sense of judgment.”

Elliott, the MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, is the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The former real estate and commercial lawyer ran for the party leader in 2009, but finished third to Hudak and former Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees.

Harris says Elliott is the right person to reinvigorate the party by bringing the Tories back to “our traditional roots, the Bill Davis type conservative.”

“Christine and I have worked together on several issues throughout the last two and a half years. I’ve had a real pleasure and opportunity to work with her on a few files. It was obvious to me, after our unfortunate defeat this past election that we needed a leader that is fiscally responsible, but has a socially compassionate agenda as well. I think there is no other person that has the private sector experience. She lives and breathes the issues that I think a lot of Ontarians do each and every day.”

The PC caucus chose Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson as the interim party leader on July 2, and the party executive will meet on July 5 to schedule a date for a leadership convention.

Elliott was first to announce her candidacy, with a press conference at the University of Toronto on June 25.

“We need to go back and rebuild our party from the ground up,” Elliott said. “And it starts by listening to all of our members and by listening to all Ontarians. We simply need to take our party in a new way forward.”

After dropping nine seats (from 37 to 28), and nearly being swept out of the Greater Toronto Area, Elliott acknowledged the need for major changes in the party’s platform.

Conservative MPP Christine Elliott
Conservative MPP Christine Elliott

“Voters sent us a very clear message that we failed to connect with the issues that matter to them,” she said. “The next four years, we all know, cannot be about business as usual. It cannot be about small incremental change… Progressive Conservatives know that good economic policy enables good social policy. Fiscal responsibility and social compassion can and, in fact, must go hand in hand. These are the values that I’ve always carried with me.”

Harris believes Elliott will help the party’s electability in urban areas.

“We are going to need a leader who not only understands the importance of the ridings we already have, predominantly in rural Ontario, but (can also) build upon some of the gains that we made in the GTA with some of our strong candidate, and be able to attract good candidates as well in those urban communities. Christine comes from an urban riding, and I would say it’s within the GTA. She understands the importance of urban communities, but also realizes the value of rural Ontario as well. I think she understands both.”

The mother of triplets says running for leader was “something Jim (Flaherty) always wanted me to do. He always wanted me to move forward in whatever capacity presented itself.”

The late finance minister succumbed to a heart attack on April 10. But Elliott says she is ready to take on the challenge of party leader.

“I’m a lot tougher than people think,” Elliot said. “I think the experiences that I’ve had in the last few months demonstrate that. It’s really a matter of style over substance: I do have a different style than some other people. But that doesn’t mean I’m not tough.”

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