TORONTO — Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown is trying again to keep a lid on social conservative views in his caucus, ordering a member of the legislature to retract comments about how some issues would be a priority for a Tory government.
Ontario's French-language public broadcaster, TFO (Television francaise de l'Ontario), posted audio recordings online Tuesday of Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls telling a group of Christian supporters that the Tories would never form government on social issues alone.
But Nicholls added: "Social issues are very, very important. We need to form government, then watch us go...watch us go."
TFO reported that Nicholls' comments were greeted with cheers by members of the Canadian Multicultural Care Group and the Canadian Christian Association, who were hosting a reception at the legislature Dec. 7. Other Tory MPPs spoke at the reception, including Sam Oosterhoff and Lorne Coe.
Brown responded to the report by saying he plans to lead "an inclusive government where intolerance will have no place," adding "the comments made by MPP Nicholls were false and need to be immediately retracted."
Nicholls did as ordered, issuing a statement saying the Tories "will not be revisiting divisive social issues" in opposition or in government.
"I retract and apologize for my comments of last week," Nicholls said. "I fully support the direction the leader is taking our party."
Brown is trying to rebuild the PCs as a more open and inclusive party, but he angered the social conservatives he courted for his leadership bid when he flip-flopped on the sex education issue in a September byelection and said he would no longer repeal Liberal updates to the curriculum.
In the TFO recordings from last week's reception, Nicholls could be heard defending his decision — and that of at least 10 other Tory MPPs — to not attend a vote on legislation that granted more legal rights to same sex parents, even though some had been in the house minutes before for question period.
"We knew that it would be problematic for us and that it would have been the news of the day if we had been present and voted against," he said. "We live in a very liberal media environment. They're just looking for opportunities."
Oosterhoff, the 19-year-old who won the Niagara West-Glanbrook byelection last month, delayed his swearing in as the youngest ever member of the Ontario legislature until the day after the vote on the same legislation, which he criticized on Twitter as it was passed into law.
He denied deliberately scheduling the ceremony to avoid the vote on the bill that he and other social conservatives opposed because it replaces the words "mother'' and "father'' with "parent.''
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press