Another day, another shining example of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s addiction to losing.
Patrick Brown just became the fourth PC leader in a row to leave his party in flames, potentially gifting the Liberals yet another electoral victory, with just four months until the writ drops.
Brown resigned as Ontario’s opposition leader early Thursday morning, just hours after holding a Queen’s Park press conference to deny sexual misconduct allegations made by two young women.
The visibly emotional and shaken Brown vowed to fight the “false” accusations published by CTV News, but appeared to be waging this war on his own. Brown had no staff with him at the press conference. Moments later, five senior staffers announced their resignations, and Brown was censured by his caucus.
He was alone. And by 1:30 a.m., he clearly didn’t see a way forward as party leader.
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I can’t laud Brown for making the right decision to resign as leader, because it was the only option. Even if he is innocent, there’s no way he could effectively lead his party to victory while playing defence against something like this. Especially in this climate.
In the #MeToo age, once accused of sexual misconduct, you are merely a passenger. The only thing you can control is the damage — and even then, only barely.
The PC party, which has undergone a significant moderating rebrand under Brown, had to show that it takes sexual harassment and assault seriously, even if the allegations pre-date his tenure as leader.
The first allegation is that Brown demanded (and received) oral sex from a drunken high schooler after a night at the bar a decade ago. The second is that he sexually assaulted a young staffer several years ago. Both are alleged to have taken place while he was a federal Conservative MP.
The initial CTV report stresses that the first of the alleged victims was in high school, but her age at the time is not known — just that she is now 29 and the run-in occurred “more than 10 years ago.” Brown is 39 now, putting 10 years between them. At the time, Canada’s age of consent was 14.
They met at a bar, and the report doesn’t address whether Brown knew how old she was, or that she was in high school.
In the second case, Brown allegedly hit on his aide while she was drunk and they were sitting on his bed. She says she “froze up” as he kissed her and when she said she wanted to go home, he drove her there without issue. She returned to work for him the following year.
Now, when it comes to politicians’ conduct, I don’t buy into the idea the only relevant question is whether something is legal or illegal. Politicians need to be held to a higher standard than simply following the law. They must be above reproach.
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We must be careful to not misrepresent the situation in our criticism of Brown, however. On the spectrum of #MeToo-esque accusations, these claims put Brown closer to Aziz Ansari than to Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.
If the allegations are true, Brown has serious judgment issues. His caucus determined that these sexual proclivities either render him unfit for office or simply make him untenable as a candidate.
Despite his pledge to clear his name, his political career is over.
While I have no doubt there is a great deal of giddiness in the offices of NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Premier Kathleen Wynne this week, no one should celebrate a political climate in which any and all allegations, with no investigation or analysis, deliver career ruin.
This is not to say claims shouldn’t be investigated. Quite the contrary, in fact.
On the same day of Brown’s press conference, Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Baillie stepped down at the culmination of an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations. He went through a rigorous process that found there were enough grounds to justify a resignation.
Brown has no such process available to him. And unless he pursues legal action against his accusers, he will likely never have the opportunity to put the allegations through a stringent, transparent test.
The oft-cited court of public opinion is hardly qualified to weigh in, though people have no doubt drawn their own conclusions.
Our culture has weaponized misconduct allegations. We need to find a way forward to deal with them in a way that doesn’t result in instantaneous, unfettered career destruction. Otherwise, we’ll all pay the price.
The big picture is irrelevant for Brown and the PCs though. Once again, the party is on track to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
A Thursday afternoon press conference by the PC party’s deputy leaders revealed a great deal of disorganization and uncertainty about where the party goes from here.
Will Christine Elliott come back? Will a veteran caucus member like Lisa MacLeod fill the void? Maybe Christopher Plummer is available.
Andrew Lawton is host of The Andrew Lawton Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL in London and a commentator for Global News.