This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on February 25, 2018.
Had the former PC leader simply kept his head down, rallied his supporters in Simcoe North, secured his riding nomination, stayed neutral in the leadership race and defended his name through appropriate channels he likely would have found himself in very different circumstances.
Often the right decisions are the most difficult to make.
The decision by the Ontario Progressive Conservative party to let Patrick Brown enter the leadership contest was the right one.
The decision preserved the democratic legitimacy of the race. At the same time, however, it may have jeopardized the party’s future and its electoral viability.
Patrick Brown, whether we like it or not, is entitled to run.
If he had been prevented from running, he would have had what the lawyers call “a triable case” against the party; one that would have resulted in an unmitigated disaster. It would have delayed the leadership vote, enraged active Brown supporters and been, overall, a huge distraction.
But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. The decision doesn’t vindicate Brown. It doesn’t clear his tarnished name.
In fact, it exposes Brown to irreversible reputational damage. This time, if he loses, he won’t be able to blame the party elite or CTV News. His own party members will be the authors of his fall.
And a hard fall it will be.
After the initial shock of the news began to fade, many people seemed to feel the party and the media had mistreated Brown. Many believed he had not been afforded due process and this was unfair; that too many had run too quickly to the exits.
As a result, many believed he should be given a chance to clear his name.
However, clearing his name does not involve running to lead his party and the province.
As a consequence, many people who were once sympathetic do not feel the same way today. Attacks on Brown have only strengthened since he made the strategically poor decision to enter the leadership race. Now, in addition to allegations of sexual misconduct, you can add allegations of fraud and bribery to the list of potential improprieties.
To make matters worse, on Thursday it was reported by this newspaper that the independent watchdog that oversees MPP finances is now investigating why Brown has not declared rental income on his home in Shanty Bay.
People are starting to see that perhaps the party and CTV News had it right after all.
Strategically, Brown’s decision to run for leader is lose-lose. Win the leadership and likely get pummeled by the Liberals. Lose the leadership and say goodbye to politics forever.
The vindication story could have gone very differently.
It started well. First, Brown’s repudiation of the CTV News allegations in the National Post and on his personal social-media channels was a public-relations success. It highlighted discrepancies and weaknesses in the reporting, as well as conflicts of interest. It highlighted the risks of the lack of due process.
The result? Fellow leadership contenders publicly stated that if Brown were to clear his name, presumably in a court of law, they would allow him to run in his Barrie riding under the party banner in the coming election.
All this changed after his leadership announcement.
Had Brown simply kept his head down, rallied his supporters, secured his riding nomination, stayed neutral in the leadership race and defended his name through appropriate channels, he likely would have found himself in very different circumstances.
Brown is well-liked in Barrie. Re-election and a cleared name would have turbocharged his way to a recovered reputation.
Unfortunately, it seems ego got the better of him.
If he doesn’t win the leadership, which he most likely will not, the eventual leader of the party will owe him nothing and offers to let him run under the party banner will likely vanish.
In short, he will have squandered not only his second chance but his last chance.
Brown is a career politician. In Canada, politicians – especially provincial politicians – have a notoriously difficult time finding work after holding public office. Brown’s tarnished reputation won’t make things easier.
Brown’s entrance into the PC leadership race is not a strategy for vindication. Rather, it is a one-way ticket into the purgatory of reputational damage; a purgatory where once in, there is no way out.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.