He didn’t mean to, but Patrick Brown just did Ontario Premier Doug Ford a big favour. If nothing else, he’s bought him a few days of relative peace and quiet.
Brown is the former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the party Ford now leads and which forms Ontario’s majority government. Brown has a book coming out. It tells, from his perspective, the story of what was one of the weirder political stories I’ve ever witnessed, let alone covered.
In January of this year, CTV News published allegations that Brown had been accused, by two women, of sexual misconduct. He was out as party leader hours later, his reputation destroyed. His top aides abandoned him. After some holes were poked in the accusers’ stories, Brown tried to get his job back, running in the leadership race his resignation had triggered, before dropping out again and then running, successfully, for mayor of the City of Brampton in last month’s municipal election.
Compressing it all into one paragraph takes away some of the craziness that defined the entire affair. The whole episode was spectacularly bizarre to watch unfold, just loaded with juicy details and nasty rumours. I’ve left out half the good stuff just to keep things manageable here.
Brown alleges in his book that his downfall was essentially a palace coup, an inside job. He claims that his moderate policies alienated some of the party establishment, so he and some of his key allies were stabbed in the back. This is, at least in part, undoubtedly true. It’s not even incompatible with the many allegations against him perhaps being accurate.
So now, almost a year later, he’s back for revenge. According to reports, he airs the dirty laundry of the PC party, and does not spare high-profile cabinet ministers such as Vic Fedeli (whom Brown says was accused of sexual misconduct himself) or Lisa Macleod (whom Brown … well, basically, he just doesn’t seem to like her much, and says that’s a pretty common sentiment among PCs). He also makes some cryptic comments about the premier and a woman who’s now an MPP, a comment that one PC insider described to me as “a warning shot.”
WATCH BELOW: Patrick Brown says Vic Fedeli ‘dodged a bullet’ in relation to sexual misconduct allegations
This all sounds like bad news for Premier Ford and the PCs. And Patrick Brown probably intended it to be exactly that. But in a perverse way, it’s actually coming at a great time for the Ontario government. Brown’s book has just changed a channel the Tories probably weren’t particularly keen for us all to have been watching.
Though not quite as bonkers as the Brown meltdown, recent days have been unkind to Ford and his government. It began almost two weeks ago, when then-labour minister Jim Wilson suddenly resigned from not only cabinet, but also the Conservative caucus, apparently to seek treatment for substance abuse issues. Global News reported a few days later that Wilson’s resignation was instead related to an accusation of sexual misconduct against the minister by a man under his employ. Global also then reported that a senior Ford aide, Andrew Kimber, had also resigned suddenly, also due to allegations of sexual misconduct involving a staff member. As salacious details about the allegation began to emerge, Kimber issued a statement acknowledging wrongdoing and apologizing for his actions.
So that wasn’t great.
Shortly after this double debacle, two other senior Progressive Conservatives left their posts suddenly — John Sinclair left his post as a senior staffer for the party’s caucus, and Alykhan Velshi, a long-time senior PC official, was suddenly let go from a cushy job at Ontario Power Generation, reportedly with a $500,000 severance package. The Globe and Mail reported that Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, personally arranged Velshi’s removal, and PC insiders say he was also responsible for Sinclair’s removal. This fuelled rumours of an escalating conflict between long-time PC staff and Ford’s own loyalists.
That’s certainly how it has looked from the outside, at any rate — that Ford’s people aren’t getting along well with the long-time soldiers who predate Ford’s leadership victory earlier this year. Such struggles aren’t uncommon, and if settled decisively (one way or the other) early enough in a mandate, can be forgotten and moved past. In the here and now, though, it’s not a great look for a party that, despite winning a huge electoral victory in June, has spent almost the entire past year embroiled in one scandal or crisis or another. And it comes on the heels of bad polling this week, which suggests that some of the fights Ford has picked thus far are hurting his party’s popularity with the voters.
WATCH BELOW: Doug Ford defends handling of Andrew Kimber, Jim Wilson resignations
None of the above is intended to paint a gloomy picture of the PCs’ performance to date, or of their future prospects. So long as this doesn’t become the normal state of affairs for the party, this will be forgotten by the time the next election rolls around, and the Tories will win or lose it for entirely unrelated reasons.
But certainly, it’s not unreasonable to note that this has been a lousy few weeks for Ford and his government. And then comes Patrick Brown and his book. Brown obviously was out to name names and settle scores. But what he’s actually done is shift attention onto himself and unite the Tory caucus in their condemnation of their former leader.
It might help him sell some books. If so, mission accomplished. But it might come at the cost of doing Doug Ford a big favour. Wonder how Brown feels about that.