Martin Regg Cohn: How Patrick Brown’s childish premier fantasies can still come true
The PC leadership candidate is a poster boy for politicians who never grow up — or give up — because they don’t know how to take No for an answer, writes Martin Regg Cohn.
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Patrick Brown is the man-child who still dreams of governing the men, women and children of Ontario.
He is a poster boy for politicians who never grow up — or give up — because they don’t know how to take No for an answer.
As an MP in Ottawa, he allegedly lusted after — and lunged for — a female staffer.
The teetotaler and the intoxicated teen.
All the while, he found time to date an intern who came on his payroll at 21, followed him to Queen’s Park, tagged along for official trips abroad, and is still standing by her man-child today.
A Progressive Conservative paragon of private-sector thrift, he now confesses to pleading for help from mom and dad on the down payment for his oversized house — just like other hard-pressed Ontario families, except that he’s a never-married 39-year-old (no kids, no obligations) who has earned well over six figures as a career politician since leaving university. A man-child with a mom-and-pop mortgage ($1.7 million) and a subsidized downtown luxury condo who claims to feel your pocketbook pain.
A jock-child who poses for photos with every celebrity athlete he can conjure up, Brown attends fantasy hockey camps while living out his own real-life fantasy as a political poseur. All supposedly for charity, but in reality for his own cause.
Abandoned by his mutinying staff, forced to resign by a caucus revolt, later expelled from caucus, ultimately deemed unfit to run as a Tory MPP in his local riding, Brown now wants it all back. He is running again to be Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, notwithstanding his disloyalty to the PCs.
And why not? It’s his Tory party, and he can cry if he wants to ... let it die if he wants to.
After all, he built it up — from 10,000 members to 200,000 — so why not tear it down? They are mostly his members, wooed and won over (in some cases, and by some accounts, allegedly bought and paid for).
Don’t count him out. But if there is a Brown revival, the PCs’ survival can't be counted on.
A significant number of Tory MPPs might bail if Brown came back as leader — not least Vic Fedeli, the interim leader who has publicly denounced him, and Randy Hillier, the fearless parliamentarian who claims to have exposed him. (A similar scenario might arise if rival candidate Doug Ford takes over, prompting more caucus and candidate departures.)
Brown won the leadership in 2015 in what amounted to a hostile takeover of a moribund, mostly rural rump of a party. If he regains power, beware a split not merely along progressive versus conservative lines, but the Brown lineup versus the old party line.
As interim leader, Fedeli announced that something — almost everything — was rotten in the party’s state of affairs: wildly inflated membership lists, baldly unfair candidate nominations (at least one under criminal investigation), and missing funds. He purged Brown’s handpicked courtiers, and presided over the January resignation of ex-president Rick Dykstra amid allegations of sexual assault.
Fedeli has shown fidelity to the party by vowing to clean out the “rot.” But it’s worth asking if the problem doesn’t go beyond Brown. What if a good part of the party membership is itself rotten to the core, and much of the base is debased? What if the grassroots have grown weeds?
What if the PC party has become a mere vehicle for personal power, easily hijacked by outsiders who pander to insiders — reversing progress on sex education, or undoing progress on global warming? While the party is in the thrall of questionable conservative personalities, it is enthralled with questioning its own progressive policies.
It is not just one politician’s past that is in question, but a political party’s future that is at stake. Brown’s lust for power is matched only by his naked lust for personal satisfaction and reputational vindication.
The man-child has not been charged with a crime, so this is not about due process in a court of law, where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil lawsuits of the kind Brown is threatening against his accusers, the standard is merely a balance of probabilities. In politics, as Brown has hypocritically argued without hesitation in the past, one must not only be pure, but be seen to be pure. When a man-child offers himself as a premier-in-waiting, voters have every right to judge his personal misjudgments and injudiciousness.
They are entitled to ask how a leader behaves in private, and they are certainly within their rights to judge his conduct in public. Does he duck under fire, dodge questions, run in flight (down three flights of stairs), hide behind his sisters and then lawyer up?
That’s how defendants save their skins in court, and how an errant man-child with a guilty conscience begs for forgiveness from adoring parents. It’s not how grownup politicians court adult voters.