It should have been Ontario’s political highlight of the week: the Ontario PC Party leaders’ debate between the four aspirants to the Tory crown. Instead, the main event was scooped by the latest installment of the Patrick Brown Show, a hydra which is sprouting heads faster than the party can cut them off.
The disgraced former leader is determined not just to defend himself, but expose those he claims have done him wrong — and in doing so, he threatens to take the entire party down with him.
And the accusations just keep growing. Over the weekend, Brown broke his silence and delivered an interview to Postmedia in which he called the allegations against him “absolute lies.”
On Tuesday, CTV published a story which, while headlined “Patrick Brown accusers stand by allegations,” actually offered up a different version of the “facts,” namely that one of the accusers was not actually underage and in high school, as she had originally claimed.
The next day Brown published a missive on Facebook, blasting his accusers and CTV and ending with the ominous words, “this is not over.” That same night, Global News aired the first of two interviews with Brown in which he not only disputed the accusers’ version of events but stated that they were goaded into coming forward by his political enemies.
Said Brown, “I have a number of political adversaries and so there’s a number of people who would benefit from what happened and I hope that in the course of the investigation we’ll be able to expose who was involved in this.”
WATCH: Patrick Brown says sexual misconduct allegations are politically motivated
Brown also went back on Facebook on Thursday morning to say that he was suing CTV for fabricating a “false and malicious report.”
The evening was capped off with a story questioning whether Brown’s resignation may be invalid because he didn’t authorize it, a piece speculating on whether he might run for leader and a report that other witnesses are contradicting the accusers’ accounts of events. Even for journalists steeped in this stuff, it’s becoming near-impossible to keep up.
As for the PCPO leaders’ debate, it was not nearly as interesting: no one fumbled, no one shone, partly because no one really debated anyone. The format precluded that, as it consisted of a series of questions and answers, rather than exchanges between candidates.
WATCH: Ontario PC Party leadership candidates square off in debate
But there was also the fact that the candidates agreed more than they disagreed, on everything from killing the carbon tax to supporting pharmacare for young people.
One even had the distinct impression that they didn’t want to attack each other, even when they did diverge.
An attempt at debate did break out at the end, when anti sex-ed candidate Tanya Granic Allen asked former MPP Christine Elliott why she had co-sponsored a bill on sex change procedures; Elliott looked almost surprised that Granic Allen was talking to her, and said something about how “people make different choices.”
Apart from Granic Allen, who alternated between loud and louder, especially on the issue of sex-ed, the other three candidates delivered subdued performances, to the point where Twitter commentators exhorted them to please wake up.
Doug Ford was devoid of his usual bombast; Elliott talked a lot about issues she cares about, such as special needs kids; and Caroline Mulroney was less nervous than at the weekend Manning Conference, but still had the annoying tendency to lapse into sound bites.
The entire exercise lasted only an hour, and after it was done, it was time to turn the channel back to the Patrick Brown Show, which had at least four new stories circulating on various media platforms.
Whatever the truth of the allegations against Brown, or of his defence, the effect of this ongoing saga is the same: the drama is eclipsing the leadership race, and undermining the credibility of the entire PCPO.
WATCH: Patrick Brown calls PC Party leadership race ‘worrisome’
This is a party that has already snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in two previous elections; it is almost inconceivable that it should do it a third time. But the more mud flies, the more tarnished the brand will become.
One cannot blame Brown for fighting to reclaim his name; having lost his job, reputation and political career, he has little to lose, and at 39, a long personal and professional future to fight for.
But if Brown proves his claims to be true — that he was brought down by political adversaries within his own party, — his will be the most pyrrhic of victories, one which the Liberals and NDP will feast on with gusto as they prepare to go to the people on June 7.