When dissident doctors convinced their colleagues to reject the Ontario Medical Association's recent contract agreement with Kathleen Wynne's government, a stunning turn of events that leaves physicians without a contract more than two years after the last one expired, some of the provincial opposition leader's top advisers were working behind the scenes.
On the legal side, there was Walied Soliman, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown's closest political confidante.
As corporate co-counsel to the Coalition of Ontario Doctors, which represents physician groups that believed the OMA was inadequately representing their interests, he helped win a court order forcing the OMA to hold its proxy vote on the deal in a way that wasn't slanted toward an endorsement of it. (Mr. Soliman, a proxy law specialist at the firm Norton Rose Fulbright, was working alongside lead counsel Lax O'Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb.)
Meanwhile, other prominent Ontario Tories helped doctors initially opposed to the deal – especially radiologists, who stood to be among its biggest losers – with strategy to win other OMA members to their side.
Most notable on this front was communications consultant Dan Robertson, a former senior staffer and advertising director for the federal Conservatives who is now a member of Mr. Brown's core campaign team.
For Mr. Soliman, Mr. Robertson and others, their work with the coalition may have been all about business, with no correlation to their party work. And with the strategy firm Navigator Ltd. enlisted by the OMA, there were also provincial Tories working for the pro-deal side, albeit not ones seen to be as close to Mr. Brown.
But if nothing else, the PC Leader will now have access to some inside information about doctors' dynamics – a help in figuring out how aggressively to try to rally them behind him, heading into Ontario's next election in 2018.
After the tentative four-year contract was rejected by 63.1 per cent of OMA voters, Mr. Brown called for the firing of Eric Hoskins – an easy way to score points with those who consider the provincial Health Minister, himself a medical doctor, to be a traitor for trying to impose unpopular spending-restraint measures on them.
But Mr. Brown has stepped more carefully when it comes to doctors' demands.
As he prepares to run on a platform that presumably will include balanced budgets, it's unclear whether he agrees with the dissidents that after years of fee cuts, the deal's 2.5-per-cent annual fee hike was insufficient.
Similarly, he has not committed to binding arbitration, which the government refused to grant in the rejected agreement for fear of surrendering cost control.
In addition to concerns about feasibility if he actually wins the next election, there are shorter-term political calculations Mr. Brown must take into account.
One is whether, by aligning too closely with the doctors, he would be playing into the Liberals' hands.
Were Mr. Brown to argue for more money for doctors, the governing party could be counted on to argue it would mean cuts elsewhere.
And members of Ms. Wynne's team seem to think doctors, unlike nurses or teachers or other middle-class members of the broader public sector, are easily cast as rich and entitled – making them appealing foils if the Tories are aligned with them, especially if patients are inconvenienced by some form of job action.
The other big question for Mr. Brown is one advisers like Mr. Soliman and Mr. Robertson might be well-positioned to help answer: Can doctors be mobilized enough to make up for any public-relations liabilities with on-the-ground activism?
Tens of thousands of disgruntled doctors might have plenty to offer a political party.
Notwithstanding the Liberals' potential demonization of them, they're respected by members of their communities, especially the elderly.
By nature of their jobs, they interact directly with a great number of people. They have deep pockets.
But doctors are not generally considered a group easy to politically engage.
Practising physicians rarely seek to run for office, given the pay hit.
Relative to others in their income bracket, they don't donate much.
They're not known for knocking on doors.
Maybe enough of them have been galvanized to disprove that assumption.
Maybe others would at least be capable of delivering a helpful message to the great number of people with whom they interact directly through their jobs.
And maybe there is groundwork a party could lay, before a campaign, to make these doctors into political assets.
Nobody can know for sure, yet.
But Mr. Brown has the luxury of being surrounded by people who should now know better than most.