Opinion

Patrick Brown's exit could actually leave the PCs better positioned to take on Wynne: Robyn Urback

Brown has always been the wrong guy to get the PCs their victory: he's a bit too awkward, far too enigmatic and he's never really given the impression that he will govern by conviction, instead of convenience.

Out of an awful situation, the party has an opening to equip itself with a stronger, more likable candidate

Brown was always an odd pick for Ontario PC leader: a relatively unremarkable backbencher in Stephen Harper's government who managed to snag the provincial leadership from front-runner Christine Elliott. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

It was never really a question of whether the Ontario PCs would screw up the election this time around, but how.

A toddler always manages to find the one uncovered electrical outlet in the house. Your tire practically seeks out that little rusty nail lying imperceptibly on a five-lane highway. And the leader of the Ontario PC party will, ahead of a totally winnable election, score in his own net by promising to fund all religious schools or vowing to fire 100,000 public-sector workers.

Many will see now-former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown's score-in-his-own-net moment as occurring sometime Wednesday evening, when he literally fled from reporters after making a few trembling remarks denying reports of serious sexual misconduct. But the PCs arguably bungled this one way earlier, before reporters would chase the Opposition leader down the steps at Queen's Park.

Makes quick exit without statement after hastily calling press conference to deny misconduct allegations 1:15

Almost immediately after he left the podium, Brown's senior staff released a statement announcing their own resignations, noting that they had asked him to step down but that he had refused. The premier, the leader of the Ontario NDP and members of Brown's own caucus would all join the fray, turning the situation into a full-blown crisis within hours. In the early hours of Thursday morning, Brown finally announced his resignation.

There was certainly no way Brown could've survived this, but we should resist the urge to see this particular incident as Brown's own patented PC-screw-up moment. For one, sexual misconduct is not the same thing as an ill-conceived campaign flub: it is sinister, malignant, and reflects a fundamental deficiency as a person, not simply a politician.

Granted, these allegations have not been proven and Brown vehemently denies their veracity. Surely many Ontarians will believe him, and some will go so far as to think this is all a sinister scheme concocted by Premier Kathleen Wynne's team to win the election. For what it's worth, though, I personally believe these reports, based partly on the knowledge that multiple news organizations were investigating these claims, and partly on the credibility of the journalists who felt their stories had been substantiated enough to print.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown denied allegations of sexual misconduct at an unexpected news conference at Queen's Park Wednesday night. 1:27

In any case, it would be shortsighted to see Wednesday evening as the Ontario Conservatives' boomerang torpedo moment; that process actually began nearly two years ago, when the party first elected Brown as its leader. It's just that the explosion only happened now.

Brown was always an odd pick for Ontario PC leader: a relatively unremarkable backbencher in Stephen Harper's government who managed to snag the provincial leadership from front-runner Christine Elliott, in part by signing up a whack of new members. He came off as a bit uncomfortable from the moment he accepted the victory, with both arms raised in the air, and continued to impress that sort of reluctant-man-on-the-dance-floor vibe as he navigated the first few challenges of his tenure.

There was his ham-fisted handling of Ontario's new sex-education curriculum, which he spoke against at a rally during the leadership campaign, then vowed to repeal in a letter sent to residents ahead of a 2016 east Toronto byelection. Brown subsequently did a complete about-face, saying he was actually strongly in support of the new curriculum and claimed that the letter had been sent out without his consent.

We still don't know what actually happened, but that doesn't matter: the debacle managed to alienate both social conservatives who saw a different Patrick Brown during the leadership campaign, and moderates, who were wary of Brown's socially conservative voting record.

His attempt to sell carbon pricing to his party was similarly clumsy: an effort to ram through a complete policy reversal without much of an explanation as to why. Meanwhile, questions started brewing about the fairness of the party's nomination process. And more recently, Brown introduced a host of new spending promises that would alienate the fiscal conservatives in his party, along with the already estranged social conservatives.

Brown has always been the wrong guy to get the PCs their victory against Kathleen Wynne's Liberals in the upcoming June provincial election. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

To be fair, there is logic in trying to create a big-tent conservative party in Ontario, which has proven again and again that it has little appetite for the austere type of governance the PCs routinely try to sell. Indeed, polling has shown Ontarians generally like the Liberals' policies — they just don't care much for Kathleen Wynne — which explains why Brown would try to adopt Liberal ideas and make them his own.

But Brown has always been the wrong guy to finally get the PCs their victory: he's a bit too awkward, far too enigmatic and he's never really given the impression that he will govern by conviction, instead of convenience. Say what you will about Wynne, she appears to genuinely believe in the things she's doing. Brown rarely gave off the same impression.

The irony in this epic implosion is that with Brown now out of the leadership, the PCs might actually be better positioned to take on Wynne's Liberals in the June provincial election. No doubt it will be an enormous task, but there is an opportunity here for the party to equip itself with a stronger, more credible and, frankly, more likable candidate. Dare I say, there might actually be an opening for the Ontario PCs to score on the opposing net for a change.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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