THUNDER BAY – A local Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate is back in the camp of the party leadership race’s most experienced contender.
Derek Parks, who has been nominated to run for the party in Thunder Bay-Superior North, on Tuesday said he is joining Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano and Sudbury candidate Troy Crowder in endorsing Christine Elliott to lead the party in June’s election.
Elliott promised to the three Northern Ontario candidates she would adopt Brown’s pledge to double the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation’s annual budget to $200 million and remove the $5 million cap per project, Parks said.
“By taking that, and ensuring what Patrick had contributed would be followed by Christine Elliott, I figured that was the best out of the situation we’d been given,” Parks said.
“We thought the North could play a significant role in shifting some points within the leadership and we’re grateful Christine and her team listened to us and accepted that.”
During a visit to the city last week, Elliott had pledged to review the fund’s allocation but did not commit to any increase. Fellow leadership hopeful Caroline Mulroney has said she intends to double the NOHFC budget.
Elliott, who is seeking the leadership for the third time after losing out to Tim Hudak in 2009 and Brown in 2015, had served as an MPP in Whitby since 2006 but left Queen’s Park shortly after failing to win the 2015 leadership contest.
The 62-year-old, who had been serving as the province’s first patient ombudsman, resumed her political career following Brown’s resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Elliott is joined in the race by provincial political newcomers Mulroney, Doug Ford and Tanya Granic Allen.
“Christine has been there the longest. She has a great track record,” Parks said.
“For her to come back shows that she knows what the province needs. You can’t take the years of experience Christine Elliott has dealing with Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne Liberals and, in fairness, give it to Caroline and ask her to carry that knowledge forward in less than three months.”
The party has been surrounded by turmoil following the initial sexual misconduct allegations against Brown. Controversy was only continued to swirl in the ensuing weeks with the integrity commissioner probing a complaint against Brown accusing him of failing to disclose all income sources as well as a police investigation into possible party tampering in a Hamilton area nomination contest.
Parks acknowledged the barrage that has hit the party but remains confident the PCs have the capability to govern the province if they prevail in the polls over the Wynne Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s Ontario NDP.
“These leadership battles get kind of divisive but at the end of the day we have to come together,” Parks said. “It’s to build a team Ontarians can believe in. This blow up, I think voters will give us a bit of a pass as long as March 10 comes and we have a leader and all this stuff stops.”