It’s been a turbulent term in office for Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, marred by scandals, infighting between council members and the firing of top city officials. And yet, support for the high-profile politician in Ontario’s fourth largest city remains strong as he seeks re-election Monday.
Despite controversies throughout his first four years – including allegations he mismanaged city funds and an audit finding select companies had an “unfair advantage” during a study to bring a university to the city – Mr. Brown’s run for a second term has received endorsements from local unions and former politicians, as well as support at community rallies.
Polling from his campaign suggests Mr. Brown still has backing from Brampton voters after being elected in 2018 with 44 per cent of the vote. The survey, conducted by Mainstreet Research last week and obtained by The Globe and Mail, shows Mr. Brown with 49 per cent support among the 623 people polled. Another 26 per cent said they’re undecided and the next closest contender is City of Brampton planning director Nikki Kaur, who took a leave to run for the mayor’s chair, with 12 per cent.
Ms. Kaur, who previously raised concerns about internal operations at the city, has attacked the record of Mr. Brown throughout the campaign and argued the scandals circling the mayor have been clouding important issues facing Brampton – including an increase in violent crime and the housing affordability crisis.
The survey also asked if residents approve of Mr. Brown’s performance as mayor over the last term, with 64 per cent responding in support. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.9 per cent.
In an interview with The Globe on Monday afternoon, Mr. Brown said he is encouraged by the polling results, as well by the response he’s received on the campaign trail, which largely has focused on his efforts during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to fight for supplies and vaccines for the city’s hardest hit front-line workers.
Mr. Brown also pointed to campaign promises he said he was able to deliver on, including freezing property taxes for four consecutive years and introducing free transit for seniors.
“I feel very confident we’re going to come back with a larger mandate,” Mr. Brown said. “Most doors I knock on, people say thanks for fighting for us during the pandemic.”
Groups supporting Mr. Brown’s bid for re-election said his accessibility and staunch support of the diverse communities in Brampton outweigh the allegations currently surrounding him. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1573 threw its support behind Mr. Brown’s re-election campaign, largely because of his efforts and availability during the pressures of the pandemic, president Frank Vani said.
“We applaud everything he’s done for us, and if giving him a little bit of support during the election is the price that we have to pay for it, then it’s a small price to pay,” he said.
Controversies surrounding Mr. Brown also extend to other levels of politics. In July, Mr. Brown was disqualified from the federal Conservative leadership race for what the party called “serious allegations of wrongdoing” that are under review by Canada’s elections commissioner.
Following his disqualification, a woman working on Mr. Brown’s campaign said she was being paid by a corporation, which is illegal under federal election laws. Just weeks later, Mr. Brown announced he would run for re-election in Brampton.
Speaking outside Queen’s Park last week, Mr. Brown’s his main rival, Ms. Kaur, called on the provincial government to intervene in the city’s affairs and conduct investigations into the scandals surrounding the mayor’s tenure. Ms. Kaur argued residents of Brampton haven’t gotten their “fair share” of jobs or investment in the city, and that there has been a lack of transparency at city hall.
“There’s no trust in the city any more and in the leadership. The fact that he left Brampton for a bigger and better job – the residents are questioning whether he is really committed to the city,” she said. “It seems like Brampton is a second choice for him and always has been.”
Polling from Ms. Kaur’s campaign suggests a much closer race than the findings of Mainstreet Research. Campaign Research, which is run by high-profile conservative political strategist Nick Kouvalis – who is working with Ms. Kaur – reported a dead heat between the top two contenders. Among the 250 Brampton voters who were polled last Friday, both candidates garnered 32 per cent support, with 25 per cent undecided. The margin of error for the sample was reported as plus or minus six per cent.
Brampton City Council has been at odds for much of Mr. Brown’s four-year term, with the group divided into two factions – resulting in split votes and the two sides skipping meetings.
Outgoing two-term Councillor Jeff Bowman said issues were bubbling for more than two years but came to a head in August when Mr. Brown called a Friday afternoon meeting, with only 24 hours notice, to terminate an ongoing investigation of the Brampton University plan. Mr. Bowman said he and other councillors were shocked to learn from city staff in March that the cost of the project had ballooned to more than $600,000 without providing any results.
Mr. Brown countered that the city has a lot to show for the $600,000 that went to advocacy work, pointing to plans for a new medical school and the expansion of Algoma University’s campus in Brampton.
Mr. Bowman, who initially supported the mayor when he was elected in 2018, said he lost faith in Mr. Brown throughout the term and believes the city has lost economic and business opportunities because of the actions of the mayor. He has endorsed Ms. Kaur’s campaign in an effort to turn the ship around.
“We had a lot of promise in this city, and people were really thinking that we would get out of the scandals from the previous years that we had, but it hasn’t worked out that way unfortunately,” he said. “I think the city needs to take a very hard stance, change direction and start making this city the economic power that it once was.”
Voters will go to the polls Monday. Already more than 19,000 people voted in Brampton’s advance voting, a 33 per cent increase from 2018.