Elliott slams harmonized tax in leadership launch
TORONTO - Ontario politician Christine Elliott, the wife of federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, is hoping to land the job her husband twice failed to win: leading the provincial Progressive Conservatives.
Elliott, a lawyer who was first elected to the Ontario legislature in 2006, cast herself Friday as the more centrist contender in the race to succeed John Tory during a slick campaign launch.
Preaching the Red Tory mantra of fiscal conservatism and social responsibility, Elliott quickly dispensed with lingering questions about whether she and her right-wing husband -- who already share the riding of Whitby-Oshawa -- also hold the same political views.
"We have to respectfully disagree on certain things -- we do that from time to time," said Elliott, who currently serves as the Opposition critic for justice and women's issues.
"I think that happens in any relationship and certainly we're no different."
Speaking to dozens of supporters, Elliott slammed the Liberal government for embarking on tax harmonization -- a step Flaherty has long pushed the province to take -- when Ontario is grappling with a recession.
Did her husband make a mistake in signing a $4.3-billion accord with Ontario to merge the provincial sales tax with the federal GST?
"I can't really speak to what the minister of finance is doing for Canada," she replied.
"I can only say that (for) Ontario right now, our party's position is that the harmonization is something that we could take a look at perhaps in the future, but this is not a time to be bringing in this tax now when hard-working Ontarians are having their wallets stretched thin."
If there were any heated dinner-table debates lately in the Elliott-Flaherty household, it wasn't apparent at her campaign launch, where her husband introduced her in a pre-taped video.
Flaherty, who was at a G20 summit in the United Kingdom on Friday, said it was time for him to "stand by" his spouse, just as she had done for him.
"You've always been there, campaign after campaign -- you've never once let me down," said Flaherty, who lost his bids for the provincial party leadership in 2002 and 2004.
"And through it all, you've distinguished yourself in your own right, as a professional, as a businesswoman, and as an MPP."
Insiders say Elliott wanted to go into politics before Flaherty, but decided to put those ambitions on hold while raising the couple's triplet sons, who are now 18.
The brand of conservatism Elliott is selling is very different from her husband's, who during his 2002 leadership bid proposed jailing the homeless.
The party can build a "new, enduring majority" with a vision and clear plan to return Ontario to economic prosperity, she told supporters.
That vision must also recognize "it is only through growth and prosperity that we can provide the means to help those less fortunate than ourselves," she said.
Rejecting any political labels -- "I define myself as a Conservative, period" -- Elliott said her beliefs are rooted in her experiences as a mother, businesswoman and advocate for people with special needs, including her son John.
Some experts predict the race will see the party swing back to the ideological right, hoping to duplicate its success in 1995 when former premier Mike Harris rose to power with his neo-conservative Common Sense Revolution platform.
The party should respect its history, but can't replicate old campaigns, Elliott said.
"I think there were many good things that were done during the Mike Harris years," she said.
"But I think that we need to move forward and craft new solutions based on the situation that we're faced with here in 2009."
Elliott provided few details about her platform, saying her policy ideas would be rolled out over the next few weeks.
The other leadership candidates are perceived front-runner Tim Hudak, Frank Klees and Randy Hillier.
Hudak, who is married to Harris's former adviser Deb Hutton, has the backing of half the elected provincial Conservatives. Only two caucus members -- John O'Toole and Sylvia Jones -- have endorsed Elliott so far.