Who will benefit most from Patrick Brown’s sudden downfall as Ontario Progressive Conservative leader?

Jan 26th, 2018 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief

“Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown leaves Queen's Park after a press conference ... Wednesday, January 24, 2018. AARON VINCENT ELKAIM/THE CANADIAN PRESS.”

TORONTO BEACHES, JANUARY 26, 2018, 2:30 AM ET. [UPDATED 1:40, 5:20, 7:00 PM, JAN 27, 12:30PM]. What are we mere voters in Ontario provincial elections to make of such headlines as : “Two women accuse Patrick Brown of sexual misconduct” ; and “Tories looking for new leader after Patrick Brown sex scandal”?

For starters, following events like this on Twitter (along with newspapers, radio, and TV as in days of yore) certainly brings extra data.

Personally, I like to think I watch Ontario politics fairly closely — from the standpoint of a mere voter at any rate (with one or two friends closer to the front lines). But when I suddenly heard about now former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown’s dramatic new troubles on TV Wednesday night (January 24) I was altogether surprised.

Picking up the story on Twitter suggested that at least some observers of Ontario politics were better prepared.  As early as 10:02 PM, January 24 lynn @lynnvictoriaaaa reported : “Those of us from #Barrie [Mr. Brown’s current home town] know exactly what Patrick Brown is like, so unfortunately, this is not shocking at all.”

At 11:06 PM victoria delray @vicdelrayy replied : “I was going to say, he has always been openly scummy with extremely young (often underaged girls) …  Im glad this is finally coming to light.”

At 11:27 PM Laurie  @CndnSheepdog added : “We’re hearing this Patrick Brown thing was an open secret.  I would like to hear from all the men who told him to stop, all the men who tried to stop him.”

(For “Who benefits?”, “Can PC s move fast enough?”, “Other Options?”, “Fairness for Patrick Brown?”, click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below! UPDATE JAN 27 : Note as well that there is now an instant Wikipedia article on the penultimate outcome of all this — a fresh Ontario PC leadership election in which all party members can participate on March 24. See “Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership election, 2018.” )

Will PCs themselves benefit most from Patrick Brown’s downfall?

“Ontario NDP provincial leader Andrea Horwath, left, and then-Conservative leader Patrick Brown speak after meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne in April 11, 2016. (NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS).”

Several hours later, the traffic had become more analytic — and more strictly political.

At 9:15 AM, January 25 noted local/regional/national political guru Warren Kinsella tweeted : “Credit where credit is due: @NickKouvalis & Campaign Research have been warning PCs on the perils of Patrick Brown for many months. They were the only ones who were saying women opposed Brown. Took guts to do that. Today they look like prophets.”

A mere six minutes later (9:21 AM) Steven Tufts (“Associate Professor, Department of Geography, York University” whose research interests focus on “organized labour”) responded to Mr. Kinsella : “Any chance @NickKouvalis also had some inside knowledge of his behaviour? It seems that everyone in Barrie under 30 knew about @brownbarrie.” (Where  @brownbarrie is the Twitter address of now former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown.)

As it happens, the polling people at the Campaign Research enterprise alluded to in Warren Kinsellas’s “@NickKouvalis & Campaign Research” — unlike the rival experts at Forum Research — have also most recently been reporting that “Liberals and PCs tied, for second straight month … In the first month of this election year in Ontario, Campaign Research found very similar results to what we reported over the last few months of 2017” — PC s 35%, Libs 34%, NDP 23% , Greens 6%.

On these results it is certainly arguable that the PC s themselves just might be the ultimate beneficiaries of Patrick Brown’s downfall. See, eg, Robyn Urback’s post on the CBC News site :  “Patrick Brown’s exit could actually leave the PCs better positioned to take on Wynne … Out of an awful situation, the party has an opening to equip itself with a stronger, more likable candidate.”

The notion that it was PC s disgruntled with Patrick Brown’s leadership, and not Liberals or New Democrats, who urged the two women accusing Patrick Brown of sexual misconduct to come forward, not much more than four months before the June 7, 2018 Ontario election (and years after the events in question allegedly took place) is arguably supported as well by their taking their stories to CTV News (with its customary private-sector tilt in conservative directions).

But can the Ontario PCs come up with a better leader soon enough?

Vic Fedeli looks into an issue online. Tks to NorthBayNipissing.com.

According to the Canadian Press as of 4:16 PM, January 25 : “Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives to pick interim leader on Friday” (ie January 26, today).

More exactly : “The Tory caucus is set to meet Friday to select an interim leader to replace Patrick Brown, with at least one member of the legislature publicly throwing his hat in the ring.” (Twitter as of 1:05 PM, January 25 suggested this was Vic Fedeli.)

The CP report went on : “The party’s deputy leaders would not say, however, whether the person they choose would lead them in the scheduled June election or if a leadership race would be held before then, saying only that caucus members would need to have those discussions.”

Somewhat later, the Toronto Star reported that “MPP Vic Fedeli, a popular former North Bay mayor, is poised to be selected “parliamentary leader” by his caucus colleagues Friday morning at Queen’s Park … Sources told the Star that Fedeli (Nipissing) has lined up the support of more than half of the other 28 Tory MPPs.”

The Star report also underlined : “But Conservatives are still deeply divided over whether an interim leader selected by a few caucus members should lead the party into the June 7 vote.” [UPDATE 1:40PM, JAN 26 — From the Canadian Press : “Ontario's Progressive Conservatives have appointed an interim leader to replace Patrick Brown, who resigned in the face of sexual misconduct allegations ... Vic Fedeli, 61, was selected by the PC caucus during a meeting Friday morning, but it's not immediately clear if he will lead the party in the scheduled June provincial election.” Robert Benzie at the Toronto Star tweeted something similar about an hour ago. Then at 1:20 PM he added “Fedeli says: ‘I am the party leader.’ He's opposed to a divisive leadership election.”]

Caroline Mulroney with her father.

If the interim leader or parliamentary leader [now known to be Vic Fedeli] is not going to lead the PCs in the June 7 election campaign, Adam Radwanski at the Globe and Mail no doubt has a point in “Ontario Tories have little time to make sense of what Patrick Brown left behind.” But anything is always possible in democratic politics.

Again, if it’s not going to be interim parliamentary leader Vic Fedeli, names for some very quick broader Ontario PC leadership contest I’ve noticed in various places are John Baird,  Steve Clark, Christine Elliott, Lisa MacLeod, Caroline Mulroney, Rod Phillips, and Lisa Raitt.

Without of course having any idea at all whether she would be remotely interested (or backed by key party players etc) I’d point vaguely as well myself to Janet Ecker — the token Red Tory in the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves cabinet, who was born in the same year as Kathleen Wynne (1953) and could (I think) make an attractive new Ontario PC leader for the 2018 election.

[UPDATE 5:20 PM, JAN 26 : CP24 TV has reported that, according to Ontario PC party president Rick Dykstra, there will be a full-scale permanent party leadership vote by the end of March. And interim parliamentary leader Vic Fedeli will be eligible to run in the race. Robert Benzie at the Toronto Star has also just tweeted : "BREAKING: @OntarioPCParty will hold a leadership election -- likely before March 31." And (5:30 PM) interim leader Vic Fedeli has now indicated on CP24 that he fully intends to run in the permanent leadership election. FURTHER UPDATE 7:00 PM : CBC News has now reported that "All 200,000 members of the party will vote on March 24 on a new leader to challenge Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne." Note as well the instant Wikipedia article alluded to above : "Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership election, 2018." ]

Other options for the ultimate impact of the Patrick Brown implosion on July 7, 2018?

Ontario’s current Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne reacts to Patrick Brown’s resignation. The people of Ontario “are wondering what's happening and exactly what comes next.”

Whatever deep truth there may or may not be to theories that suggest the sudden dramatic resignation of Patrick Brown will finally benefit (and has perhaps even been somehow engineered inside) the Ontario PC party itself, there also seem a few obvious enough senses in which the incident does at least initially damage PC electoral prospects on June 7.

One older lady street-interviewed on TV Thursday afternoon (January 25 — I think in Toronto?) was surprisingly well informed about Patrick Brown’s resignation And she just succinctly observed : “I guess it means the Liberals will get in again.”

On the other hand, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom has argued that “Patrick Brown sex scandal boosts fortunes of Andrea Horwath and the NDP … With the Tories in disarray … the NDP is poised to become the default alternative to Ontario’s Liberal government.”

I think that both Thomas Walkom and the well-informed older lady street-interviewed on TV have advanced plausible speculations. My own instinct is to wait for further evidence before jumping to too many conclusions of this sort. The traditional Christian Easter Sunday is April 1 this year. I’m wondering how things will look on Monday, April 2?

Has Patrick Brown been treated at all fairly … clearly not (??) and/or does it matter??

“Patrick Brown denies sexual misconduct allegations, calls them 'categorically untrue'.”

Not the least of the unsettling aspects of the “Patrick Brown sex scandal” is what it has so suddenly and abruptly done to Mr. Brown himself, based on less than extensive or altogether damning evidence.

Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno has responded with “Patrick Brown’s downfall an affront to fairness … Patrick Brown is a man ruined, on the word of two anonymous complainants whose allegations have been accepted as facts.”

I personally think there is quite a lot to the arguments Ms DiManno advances. (“There is arguably no crime here, even if every word, every detail, is accepted as unvarnished truth.”)

I think it’s interesting as well that Thomas Walkom’s column on rising NDP prospects points to two particular problems for the Ontario PCs : “On the one hand, they are tarred in the public mind by these sexual impropriety allegations. On the other, they have laid themselves open to charges that they acted precipitously in axing Brown simply because of an unproven television report based on anonymous claims.”

In fact, the very great haste with which the PC caucus in the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park and Mr. Brown’s own party staff moved to press for his resignation looks quite a lot like yet another sign of some at least accidental internal PC plot to change leaders in mid-stream.

Against all this are the Twitter remarks of lynn @lynnvictoriaaaa and victoria delray @vicdelrayy about how Patrick Brown “has always been openly scummy with extremely young (often underaged girls).” And, of course, there is the new urgency of what John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail has called “Powerful men laid low by the hour: #MeToo remaking society literally overnight.”

And then there is the advice proffered by Warren Kinsella on Twitter at  10:47 AM on January 25 : “@AndreaHorwath wins points by being the first to demand Brown resign — which he promptly did.”

Still, I think Ontario political history should wait until Patrick Brown has had a fair and more decent chance to defend his reputation, before jumping to any kind of certain conclusions about his ultimate legacies to his party, and to the democracy in Canada’s most populous province.

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto, and he also contributes to the website Ontario News Watch.

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