Toronto·Analysis

Marking 2 years as PC leader, Patrick Brown still largely unknown

One year away from the provincial election campaign, PC leader Patrick Brown is struggling to win the attention of voters, even with Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's approval rating at rock bottom.

'Who is he? What does he want to do? What does he believe in?' asks pollster

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown is still an unknown quantity to most Ontario voters after two years in the post, according to recent polls. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

One year away from the provincial election campaign, PC leader Patrick Brown is struggling to win the attention of voters, even with Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's approval rating at rock bottom.

A series of recent polls (including these by Innovative Research Group, Forum Research, and Campaign Research)  show around half of Ontarians don't know enough about Brown to form an opinion, despite his two years in his post as leader of the official opposition.

Brown brushes off his numbers. 

"Frankly, in opposition the only way you can be renowned around the province is to do something stupid, is to say something outrageous," Brown said Wednesday in an interview with CBC News.

"I'm going to continue not to try to go for outrageous headlines. I'm going to be decent. I'm going to be reasonable. I'm going to be pragmatic."

Brown said it's typical for opposition leaders to be little known before election time.  

"I've spoken to former premiers who tell me their name recognition was pretty low leading up to the campaign, and then afterwards it dramatically changed," he said. 

Brown won the PC leadership on May 9, 2015, defeating Christine Elliott. He was a newcomer to the Ontario PCs, previously serving for nine years on the Conservative backbenches in Ottawa, as the MP for Barrie under Stephen Harper's leadership.

Pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research Group says Ontarians he has surveyed tell him they still don't know PC Leader Patrick Brown. (CBC)

Greg Lyle, president of polling firm Innovative Research Group, said voters he surveyed recently about Brown "are saying the same things they were saying two years ago, which is, 'We don't really know the guy."

In an interview with CBC News, Lyle said voters are wondering "Who is he? What does he want to do? What does he believe in?" 

However, he said the high level of "don't know" responses on Brown's performance is not uncommon for opposition leaders, and not a huge problem for the PCs. 

'Clever, manipulative campaigners'

"Better to be unknown than to be known in a negative way," Lyle said . "He hasn't scared anyone away yet. He's been the leader for two years and hasn't made a mistake that has defined him."

But Lyle believes the PCs must move soon to firm up Brown's image with voters before the Liberals do their own job with attacks,

"If Patrick Brown can define himself as the anti-Wynne, that could work very well for him," said Lyle, who has worked with PC governments, campaigns in Ontario and Manitoba and with the B.C. Liberal Party

​Brown, who turns 39 later this month, has been a politician nearly all his adult life. He was elected to Barrie city council at age 22, then became an MP at 28.

He said it is "absolutely premature" for people to speculate that he has the June 2018 election already wrapped up simply because polls are consistently putting the PCs in first place.

"A week is a long time in politics. A year is an eternity," said Brown.  

"We are preparing to run a competitive election campaign," he said, calling the Liberals "clever, manipulative campaigners. They will say anything, they will do anything to win." 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.