Patrick Brown is running late to his fifth event of the day. The Sikh blessing is over and people are starting to eat lunch under a backyard tent when he finally arrives. He’s crammed this Saturday with 17 stops, not including two hours of door knocking, as he chases his latest attempt at a political comeback.
He shakes some hands and chats briefly with his hosts about his trips to India and leaves after 15 minutes to continue his campaign to be mayor of Brampton, a suburb of Toronto.
“I think this is a great place where I can contribute and help. It’s a city that’s hurting … and I think it’s a great place to serve,” he says during a quick break at a café.
“And I want to be a great mayor of Barrie, I want to get …” he stops, before correcting himself: “A great mayor of Brampton. I want to get this city back on track.”
It is perhaps understandable that Mr. Brown flubs the name of the city he wants to lead. It has been a turbulent eight months since he was forced to resign as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario on allegations of sexual misconduct. Since then, the former Barrie politician has been a candidate in three campaigns as he tries to salvage his career.
However, redemption for Mr. Brown is not only beating Brampton’s incumbent mayor but also his former party – which is actively working against him. Earlier this week, a top campaign strategist for Premier Doug Ford held a fundraiser for his main rival, Linda Jeffrey, who happens to be a former Liberal cabinet minister.
Mr. Brown’s opponents are quick to raise controversies that have dogged him, even beyond the misconduct allegations. The province’s Integrity Commissioner found earlier this year that he broke ethics rules, including by hiding the true source of financing for a house purchase. Police are investigating a candidate nomination race that occurred during his tenure as PC leader on allegations of fraud and forgery, one of several such battles that gave rise to similar accusations.
There are also lingering questions about how exactly Mr. Brown came to live in Brampton. Ms. Jeffrey accused him of seeking the city’s highest office with “the ink barely dried on his lease.”
Mr. Brown filed his mayoral nomination forms just minutes before the deadline after Mr. Ford unexpectedly announced he was cancelling the election for chair of Peel Region, in which Mr. Brown had been running. While campaigning in Peel, which includes Brampton, Mr. Brown had been renting a home in nearby Mississauga with his fiancée, Genevieve Gualtieri, but after entering the Brampton mayoral race, he told The Globe they had also previously leased a home in Brampton to cut down on travel time. The couple, who are getting married this weekend, now live in a different part of the city.
Ms. Jeffrey, who is running for her second term, called Mr. Brown a desperate opportunist who is using Brampton to rehabilitate his political career while jeopardizing the fate of the city.
“He doesn’t understand our issues and frankly I don’t think he belongs in public office,” she said. “He’s a risky choice. I think if Patrick Brown were to be successful, I don’t think anybody at Queen’s Park would pick up the phone when we called for the next four years.”
He seems to be everywhere
After leaving the backyard gathering, Mr. Brown slips on a traditional embroidered Filipino shirt on the way to his next event, a seniors' town hall. He is the only mayoral candidate there and soon has the crowd hanging on his every word. He opens with a few phrases in Tagalog and says he has been to the Philippines three times. He points to Ms. Gualtieri, whose background is Italian, and tells them she sometimes gets mistaken for a Filipina. He says his best canvassers are his mother and a lady in the crowd.
When it’s time for questions, a few people ask about issues outside municipal government and Mr. Brown gives a gentle lesson about jurisdiction while also managing to draw on his experience in provincial politics. “I supported pharmacare,” he tells a questioner asking about prescription drug costs. “We’ll do whatever we can from the position of mayor.”
The event, like nearly all those he attends, soon pops up in photos on his Twitter feed, which casts him as an energetic candidate with widespread support in the diverse city, where slightly more than half the population was born outside Canada. There he is, shirtsleeves rolled up, talking to small groups of people in living rooms, front lawns and driveways. He pops up at weddings, birthday parties, barbecues, factories, restaurants, golf clubs. He goes to gurdwaras and temples, mosques and churches. He seems to be everywhere.
While Ms. Jeffrey is his clear target, Mr. Brown is one of seven candidates for mayor. A Forum Research poll of 999 residents last month suggested he was in second place, at eight points behind Ms. Jeffrey. However, the poll, which is considered accurate to within plus or minus three percentage points, also found that more than a third of respondents were undecided. The issues dominating the campaign include the city’s crime rates, property taxes, overburdened local hospital, congestion and transit.
It has been a turbulent few years in Brampton. Ms. Jeffrey was elected to clean up perceived corruption and open up communication after an expense scandal involved both the former mayor and city council. However, she has faced criticism for failing to unite a bitterly divided council. Two years ago, in the wake of a scathing auditor’s report about lax spending controls and deteriorating finances, the city let go 25 senior managers as part of an overhaul.
Mr. Brown slams Ms. Jeffrey for presiding over a chaotic city hall, saying she failed to get results for Brampton and was too cozy with the former provincial Liberal government. In turn, she assails his lack of deep knowledge and ties to the city.
Despite just moving to Brampton, Mr. Brown paints himself as having roots there, noting he practised law in the city before becoming an MP in Barrie and that his father has been a criminal lawyer there for four decades. Mr. Brown also courted the city’s large South Asian community while he was in federal and provincial politics.
“I think it’s natural that people that love public service would want to continue in public service,” he says. “I’ve been at work in Brampton for the last 10, 15 years.”
Writing a book, suing CTV
Under a scorching late-summer sun, Mr. Brown looks for votes on winding residential streets a short drive from downtown with an easy smile and outstretched hand.
After he was ousted as PC leader in late January, he mounted brief campaigns for his old job and for chair of Peel Region and says he was also approached to run in several other races. In addition, he is writing a book and is suing CTV for defamation for the sexual-misconduct allegations that upended his career.
“In life, you get knocked down, you get back up,” he says repeatedly when people bring up his tumultuous year.
Clutching a clipboard with a list of people who agree to take lawn signs to support her son, Judy Brown gets emotional when she talks about how he was “framed.”
“Patrick is a saint – he is a saint,” says Ms. Brown, who wears running shoes with her dress and has both her glasses and sunglasses perched atop her head. “Patrick is a giver and Brampton needs him.”
Brampton was never his first, or even second, choice. But some residents have accepted that and say the often-overlooked city seems like as good a place as any to start fresh.
“I feel he’ll make a difference,” Francine Russo, who works at an auto-parts plant, says after chatting with Mr. Brown. “And I mean, everybody’s got to work up to it. We don’t go into the job and get the biggest job out there. So start small and keep working up. Hopefully he can make it back to running again for premier level.”
Down the street, as his daughter plays on her scooter, Gabriel Ayomoh tells Mr. Brown he has his support and poses for a photo. The machinist later credits Mr. Brown for much of the PC Party’s success in the provincial election and embraces his decision to run in Brampton.
“That a good thing. We’ve all got to start from somewhere. That’s a good thing. It’s a smart move actually. … He can go from there and see where it takes him again.”