I hate to say it, but I told you so: Patrick Brown may be a dud as a party leader

It’s been said here before, and it bears repetition, but this man will not lead the PC party to victory. The party blew it when they passed on Christine Elliot. Now their poll support is melting away faster than softened butter on a hot griddle.

Anyone consider support for Brown should listen closely to his political announcements. There are none. At least, nothing concrete and specific. In the word of President Turnip, “loser !”


A leadership race-based on who sells the most memberships can lead to a disappointing outcome. In May 2015, Patrick Brown won the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race against a more qualified and experienced opponent, Christine Elliott. She was a three-term MPP, deputy leader of the party, and someone with vision.

Brown was a two-term, lacklustre, social conservative MP. In Ottawa, he voted against same-sex marriage and was an anti-abortion advocate. He offered no clear vision for the PC Party during the race, but used his organizing skills to sell hundreds of party memberships.

Two years of on-the-job training and Brown’s greatest talent may yet turn out to be selling memberships. He’s lost a commanding lead over the Liberals and faces serious internal rebellion.

A strong democracy requires a strong opposition — one that challenges the governing party and presents a credible alternative. Brown is struggling to deliver on both counts.

In his first year as opposition leader everything seemed possible. He was dealing with a seemingly spent 15-year-old, scandal-plagued government. He and the PCs vaulted ahead in the polls. Premier Wynne was falling out of fashion.

He swelled the party membership from 11,000 to 80,000 and won two by-elections, including his own seat in Simcoe North. He countered the Liberal attempts to brand him a social conservative by claiming to be a “pragmatic conservative.” That meant surprise support for the LGBT community and a “revenue neutral” carbon tax. Beyond that, Brown was bereft of any engaging policy ideas.

By the end of last year the hope was Brown’s young, slick image would give way to a more passionate politician with a plan for the future.

So far this year he’s failed to deliver on that hope. Instead of scoring easy points against the vulnerable Liberals, Brown attacks without having a plan. He rails against soaring hydro rates but hasn’t offered a solution. He complains about “reckless spending” but hesitates to say where he’d make major program cuts.

A year out from the next election, Brown leaves the impression he’s having difficulty fashioning a conservative platform, one that will energize his base and the electorate. He’s faced with a fragmented party made up of Bay Street suits, social conservatives and libertarians — all jockeying for policy supremacy.

Meanwhile, the Liberals are stacking up policy initiatives like cord wood. A balanced budget. Improved labour standards, including a $15 minimum wage. A 25 per cent reduction in hydro rates. Massive rapid transit investments. Financial inducements for electric cars. Guaranteed annual income pilot projects. Free pharmacare care for young people. Tenant’s rights legislation. Measures to cool housing prices. Increased daycare subsidies. A strengthening economy. And the list goes on.

Brown’s biggest problems are internal. Angry, disgruntled nomination candidates blame Brown for interfering with the results. Whole PC riding association executives have resigned in protest. Brown has had to apologize publicly for the ham-handed actions of his appointed party brass.

There have been widespread charges of Brown’s candidates winning through thuggery and dirty tricks in ridings such as Hamilton West, Scarborough Centre and Ottawa West-Nepean. In May, Brown expelled Kanata MPP Jack MacLaren from the PC caucus. MacLaren has since joined the recently formed Trillium Party — a conservative splinter group.

Through all of this, party leaders are speaking out publicly. Marilyn Mushinski, a former Mike Harris PC cabinet minister, summed up the growing sentiment, “I think it would be an absolute disaster if Patrick Brown became the next premier …”

Respected former senator, Marjory LeBreton, wrote in a recent op-ed, “I am sad to say that overall the years, I have never seen anything so blatantly undemocratic as what occurred in Ottawa West Nepean (nomination meeting) on May 6, 2017.”

Last week, disillusioned former Brown supporter, Thomas Mooney, abandoned his bid for the nomination in Guelph saying, “Lately there has been a whole lot of warning flags flying across the PC party landscape.” He may run for another conservative party.

And waiting in the wings is the Conservative website” I’m Out” that’s organizing against Brown. “Our position is simple: if Patrick Brown is corrupt now — just imagine how bad it will be after a few years in power.” Ouch.

Brown may yet pull his party together and give Ontarians a serious alternative to the Wynne Liberals. But time is against him and the knives are out.

R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, TTC chief general manager and Canada Post CEO. r.michael.warren@gmail.com as posted in the Toronto Star, Aug. 2017

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