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Former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown campaigns to become Brampton's mayor at a Sikh event on September 16, 2018.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Patrick Brown recently took to social media to express his displeasure about outdoor activities being outlawed under Ontario’s stay-at-home order.

The mayor of Brampton – and erstwhile leader of the Progressive Conservatives – took aim at his former party, saying no doctors recommended closing outdoor amenities.

“Busy crowded factories are a #COVID19 challenge. An airport with loose restrictions is a problem. But golf, tennis, cricket, basketball, baseball, soccer and other outdoor sports are NOT the problem,” Mr. Brown said.

“Patrick Brown gets it,” replied Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of Ontario’s vaccine task force.

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Three and a half years ago, it would have been almost impossible to imagine such public praise being directed at Mr. Brown.

In January, 2018, he resigned as leader of the PC Party amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he strenuously denies. After an aborted second run for leader, he tried to become Peel Region chair, but the position was eliminated by Premier Doug Ford, a move many viewed as retribution. Mr. Brown then turned his sights to Brampton, the third-largest city in the Greater Toronto Area, and beat an incumbent to become mayor in October, 2018.

It wasn’t the end of a political career – but certainly not the one he had imagined.

Then came COVID-19.

With Brampton at the epicentre of the public-health crisis, Mr. Brown moved back into the spotlight – a place where political observers say he most yearns to be.

“Patrick’s a very astute politician,” said Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, a senior consultant at Crestview Strategy who lives in Brampton, where he was born and raised.

“He’s not shy about using his platform for whatever’s important at that time. And that’s left a really good impression on a lot of Bramptonians on his handling of the pandemic.”

Brampton, which is located in Peel Region, quickly emerged as the hardest-hit area of the province. With a large number of essential workers, multigenerational homes and only one major hospital, the city became a touchstone for the ills and inequities of the pandemic.

“I realized early on that we were going to be in the thick of it,” Mr. Brown said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail. “I felt at the beginning we were being stigmatized, and there wasn’t an appreciation for the fact that tens of thousands of Brampton residents were quiet unsung pandemic heroes.”

In contrast to Mr. Ford, Mr. Brown advocated early on for paid sick leave. He’s also called for closing Pearson International Airport to leisure travel and aggressively pushed for more vaccines to Peel Region, taking on both the federal and provincial governments as he sees fit.

“I think we’ve been ahead of some of these issues, whether it’s testing, isolation, paid sick days, or the vulnerability of the airport for variants … because we see it. It’s our backyard. We live it,” he said.

Mr. Brown’s return to prominence comes amid allegations of wrongdoing at Brampton city hall. Local news site The Pointer and the Toronto Star have reported on accusations of corruption among top city officials, which include allegations of misuse of public funds by the city’s chief administrative officer and attempts to silence a whistleblower. Mr. Brown said council is going to ensure there’s an “expeditious investigation” and will “move forward with no hesitation” if wrongdoing is found.

Some city councillors admit they were skeptical of Mr. Brown at first.

“I was somewhat apprehensive to work with Patrick Brown because of all the previous, I guess, baggage,” said Rowena Santos, a former NDP staffer at Queen’s Park who was elected to Brampton city council in 2018. But after working alongside him, Ms. Santos said her mind was quickly changed. “Everything I had thought about Patrick Brown – it was all hearsay before,” she said.

“He has elevated the voice of Brampton.”

Lawrence Loh, Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region and himself one of Ontario’s most prominent voices in the pandemic, said Mr. Brown recognizes the inequities faced by Brampton residents. “If he sees something that needs attention, he’s not shy and not hesitant to basically just say ‘That’s not right,’” said Dr. Loh, who has moved to close down Amazon facilities and schools ahead of the province.

Mr. Brown continues to fight the allegations levelled at him from 2018, and is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against CTV, which initially broke the story. Mr. Brown, a former federal Conservative MP, faced allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour from two young women, but he says the initial reporting contained “massive mistakes.”

“It was at the height of the Me Too [movement] and so there was less appetite for due process or checking the veracity of stories,” Mr. Brown said.

Since then, the 42-year-old lifelong politician got married and had two children – something he said he wouldn’t have made time for had he become premier in 2018. “At the time, I would never have imagined that what happened was for the best,” Mr. Brown said.

And he has begun to repair his relationship with Mr. Ford, which he admits was rocky for many years. “I don’t think it’s a secret that early on it was very hostile,” Mr. Brown said.

Although he got his start early on as a city councillor in Barrie, Mr. Brown said he chose to run for mayor of Brampton because it represented a challenge.

The city has a large South Asian population, and residents say Mr. Brown’s success lies in his ability to connect with the grassroots.

Shameel Jasvir, a radio host with RED FM, a Punjabi and Hindi station in Brampton, said the South Asian community widely supported banning flights from India, because of concerns over variants. And although most people pay closer attention to Mr. Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau than the mayor, he said Mr. Brown has succeeded in connecting with multiple diasporas. “Patrick Brown is actually different than many other Canadian politicians, and is very good at bringing all kinds of community issues [forward]. … He is trying to please everybody.”

Mr. Brown is widely viewed as politically ambitious, and Conservative insiders say they don’t believe he will stay in municipal politics for long. He served as a federal MP for almost 10 years before becoming Ontario PC Leader in 2015.

“It’s commonly said in the city that Patrick Brown’s ambition is beyond the mayor’s office,” said Mr. Sandhu, who worked for Mr. Brown’s mayoral opponent during the last election and also has ties to PC politics.

As for the future, Mr. Brown insists he’s happy with his career, and not thinking ahead to a return to provincial or federal politics – at least not right now.

“In municipal politics, you can just follow your heart and do what’s right,” he said, “rather than have to worry about offending some part of the base who may view you being too liberal.”

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