Can Patrick Brown make some new Seinfeldian mutation of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives work?

May 11th, 2015 | By | Category: In Brief

Last rival for Ontario PC leadership Christine Elliott, who sometimes almost seemed happy that she did not win, makes it unanimous.

I don’t believe in “types” of human beings. But if I did, the new Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown would remind me of a certain type of hard-working grass-roots activist, outside the established political party system.

Yet it also seems that Mr. Brown has spent almost his entire life since the middle of high school inside the very established political party that is still called Progressive Conservative in Ontario provincially, but has become Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada in federal politics.

There does appear to be a contradiction here. Until he won the leadership race this past Saturday Patrick Brown was an outsider who aspired to lead a traditional insider’s party, certainly in Ontario. And now you have to wonder. What does it mean that the outsider won?

Patrick Brown is a recreational hockey player as well as a politician — and Wayne Gretzy from California endorsed him for Ontario PC leader way back in February 2015.

In any event, in the short time that has elapsed since Brown’s victory I have been trying to figure out what I really think about him. This is almost always a foolish exercise. But fools will nonetheless rush in, where angels fear to tread.

My first major conclusion is that almost everything about Patrick Brown is and will remain a question mark, for some time into the future.

(I thought Martin Regg Cohn’s instant reaction to the Brown victory in the Toronto Star had moments of deep insight : “Brown pointedly avoided saying anything substantive in the campaign … It’s not that he has a hidden agenda, just no discernible agenda.” And Brown himself “is not just an unknown, he seems utterly unknowable.”)

Patrick Brown at the Ontario PC convention where results of the leadership vote were announced, with his sister and his mother (from an old Conservative family in Barrie), Saturday, May 9, 2015. Photo : Frank Gunn /The Canadian Press.

Allowing for all that this implies, I also thought the earlier parts of Patrick Brown’s acceptance speech on Saturday, about fresh breezes of change in the Ontario PC party, were shrewd if not exactly magnetically delivered. But then I thought his subsequent required attack on the Wynne government fell flat.

I think Regg Cohn is also on the money when he implies that Patrick Brown doesn’t really have any fresh policy cut at the key current issues and challenges facing the province in the early 21st century. And that may be what the Ontario PCs need most right now.

Underestimating him would be a mistake ??

Patrick Brown gets a high five from Kavien Thangathurai, son of dentist Dr. Sabesan Thangathurai, centre, at The Canadian Tamils’ Chamber of Commerce awards.

Brown’s ability to mobilize the social conservative instincts of some among the newer “visible minority” community in urban Southern Ontario is certainly impressive.

But this innovation had already been pioneered by the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa, on whose back benches Mr. Brown the Barrie MP has been twiddling his thumbs since 2006.

The new Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown may just also be a logical creation of the still somewhat unique process the Ontario Progressive Conservatives use to choose leaders nowadays.

Patrick Brown speaks in Coldwater, somewhat north of Barrie, in the Old Ontario countryside. His new party doesn’t look quite so young here!

For better or worse, it is a process that gives an advantage to someone with scant ties to the formal party organization and/or the caucus at Queen’s Park — but enough energy and talent to sell large numbers of new party memberships at $10 each.

A final thing I thought watching the announcement of the leadership vote on TV this past Saturday is that there is still quite a lot of energy in the Ontario PCs.

And then a short while later, reading Martin Regg Cohn’s instant reaction on the Toronto Star website, I also agreed with his comment that “Brown may yet surprise the province” — and, as the sub-headline put it: “underestimating him would be a mistake.”

A Seinfeldian mutation ??

As I have thought further about all this, one further thought has come to mind.

I’ve remembered something Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi observed during the earliest phases of the recent Alberta provincial election campaign : “You know, so far I gotta say this election has been a bit Seinfeldian.”

The great Seinfeld TV show in the USA (1989–1998), that is to say, was famously about nothing. And early on in the 2015 Alberta election campaign, that seemed to be about nothing too.

Happily, things changed in Alberta and the election last week became about something indeed. But Seinfeld was a very popular TV show for nine seasons (the first George Herbert Walker Bush and most of William Jefferson Clinton.)

Patrick Brown at the Thank You Canada Gala hosted by Vietnamese Association of Toronto is presented with a scarf by Mark Nguyen executive director of Giam Doc Dieu Hanh.

In a province like Ontario, famous for its historic cultivation of Bland Bill Davis from Brampton (1971–1984) and so forth (say, eg, Mowat, Whitney, Frost, Robarts, Peterson, and even McGuinty, etc), a Seinfeldian political strategy about nothing just might prove popular in a provincial election a few years from now. Under the right circumstances.

If by the next provincial election in 2018, to be more exact, the Wynne government has developed a long enough list of programs and policies that really annoy large enough segments of the provincial population, a Seinfeldian Ontario PC party led by Patrick Brown could be successful.

Already you can see the new leader warming to the task by seizing on the increasingly contentious and divisive issue of the Liberal government’s new sex education curriculum, and arguing that there needs to be “a pause.”

Patrick Brown and “my old friend” Narendra Modi, new conservative Prime Minister of India.

(And no doubt Mr. Brown has heard about the recent Forum poll that showed how : “If an election were held now, 36% of voters would support the Progressive Conservatives, 29% would cast ballots for the Liberals, 24% would back the NDP. Another 9% would vote for the Green Party.” UPDATE MAY 13 : But what about the new post PC leadership Forum poll,  which shows the NDP at 36%, the PCs at 33%, the  Wynne Liberals down at 24%, and the Greens now down at 5%, conceivably because of Ms May’s use of the F word federally ????  Mmmmmmmmmmmm … )

If, over the next few years, the Wynne Liberals give Patrick Brown enough new government policies and programs like the sex education curriculum to react against in some merely Seinfeldian way, his lack of a compelling fresh policy agenda for meeting Ontario’s more serious challenges over whatever lies ahead may not be so important —  from the standpoint of winning elections at least.

Who knows just what the chances are that anything like all this will come to pass?But an ultimately Seinfeldian Mr. Brown is what finally came to my mind, as I tried to think about the conclusion of the Ontario PC leadership race this past Saturday.

For the moment the deepest truth no doubt remains that Patrick Brown just remains a question mark ??

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