The doggedness of Patrick Brown

Paul Wells: He’s a detail-oriented politician who doesn’t give up and it’s going to cause his party trouble if he remains a candidate for his old job

The thing about Patrick Brown—OK, the other thing about Patrick Brown—is that he’s dogged.

A serious runner, the disgraced former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives has the obsessiveness on task that ensures success in that lonely, repetitive pursuit.

In 2006, as a federal MP, Brown was given responsibilities for outreach to Indo-Canadians. Since then he’s been to India 18 times and counts the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, among his friends, as he got to know Modi when Modi ranked much lower in the country’s political hierarchy. Other people have charity hockey games in their ridings; Brown got used to having Stephen Harper and Wayne Gretzky at his.

This is a guy who doesn’t give up. Before allegations of sexual assault got Brown ejected from the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership, and then from the party’s caucus at Queen’s Park, that doggedness was a considerable asset. Brown was a fundraising, glad-handing machine whose platform was designed for victory the way a shark is designed for swimming and eating.

That platform was the damnedest thing. It accepted Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax and then used the revenue to pay for all sorts of goodies. It called for a minimum-wage increase, though at a slower rate than Kathleen Wynne’s governing Ontario Liberals. It was silent on a provincial sex-education curriculum that social conservatives have had fun caricaturing since Wynne introduced it. It positioned Brown as the most moderate Ontario Conservative leader since Bill Davis. Well to the left of much of the party’s membership. Brown could never have won a vote among Ontario PCs over that platform if he had been required to submit it to one. That platform was a guaranteed source of tension within the party. But the tension was manageable as long as the party was on a stately march toward near-certain victory in June.

READ MORE: What Patrick Brown reveals about Canada’s broken leadership systems

Suddenly Brown was ejected as leader, and a series of highly predictable things happened. One by one, the candidates to replace him abandoned his carbon-tax pledge. One by one they have failed to come up with anything close to the amount in spending cuts they would need to compensate for the revenue shortfall that goes with axing the carbon tax. Having no discernible plans of any kind for elementary or secondary education in Ontario, the PC candidates find themselves musing again over doing something—just what is never clear—to the sex-ed curriculum. As a direct result, the leadership candidates’ debate on TVO last week was a festival of denial.

So the Ontario PCs were in trouble even before Brown returned and announced he has been vindicated by—by—well, by his desire to be vindicated, mostly. Not necessarily enough trouble to deny the Conservatives, led by whoever will lead them, a victory in June’s election: there’s always a good chance most voters will ignore the party’s current lurid spectacle and say, come June, “Sure, whatever, I’m voting this Liberal government out of office.” But the Conservatives would still have to govern after all that, and a divided party that’s afraid of its own policy shadow would be in poor shape to do that.

But that’s nothing compared to the trouble the party will be in if Brown remains as a candidate for his own succession. First, of course, because despite his insistence to the contrary, he hasn’t cleared his name of the horrid allegations against him. Second, because a Brown candidacy shows up the puddle-thin policy credentials of every other candidate.

Brown actually thought through every trade-off and hard choice his opponents would rather not discuss. None of them is required to reach the conclusions he did, but with him standing there it will be harder to pretend the hard choices of government don’t exist. He’ll be a constant rebuke to them on the details, at least when conversation isn’t focussed on debating the details of his sexual-assault accusations, his management of party funds and memberships, his limited patience for dissent, and other fun topics.

Just about anybody else would have done the math quickly and decided that turning the PC leadership race into a personal redemption tour would help neither Brown nor his party. But Brown isn’t anybody else. He’s a misfit whose only shot at greatness shattered last month. And he’s the kind of misfit who’s built not to stop. This ugly business will get uglier.


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