Patrick Brown managed to soundly defeat his opponent Christine Elliott to win the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party with the support of only five of the 28 MPPs in the party caucus.
Now, after 10 months of campaigning, he acknowledges that he must now work to unite the caucus and the party so that the focus is not on infighting but defeating the Liberal government.
Mr. Brown was considered the outsider in the race – an enigma around Queen's Park. Ms. Elliott, the MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and party deputy leader, however, is a familiar face in Toronto and was the favourite of the PC establishment. She and her team tried to paint Mr. Brown as a scary social conservative.
"I'm not going to harbour any grudges," he told The Globe and Mail in an interview after his victory. "I'm going to welcome with open arms people who supported other candidates … But my sense is that everyone is ready to work together. I've already had MPPs contact me, even last night and the night before, saying they were excited to work together."
He also has to show party members that he is not too far right despite the fact that some of his caucus supporters were from that wing of the party – and he was strongly opposed to the Liberal government's new sex-education curriculum.
Mr. Brown has tried to portray himself as a "pragmatic" Conservative, and plays up his support from unions as a contrast to his predecessor Tim Hudak, who liked to bash labour.
In addition, Mr. Brown, who is to resign as Conservative MP for Barrie this week, needs to find a seat in the provincial legislature. After his win Saturday, he was coy, saying only that he wanted to win a seat before the 2018 provincial election.
Behind the scenes, however, his team is split over whether that should happen sooner than later, according to a senior Brown strategist. Some team members believe that not much happens at Queen's Park and that his time would be better spent outside of the legislature and not distracted by a by-election.
However, Mr. Brown does want to get a seat "more than anything in the world" – and offers have already come in from MPPs, says the source. He wouldn't name the MPPs.
Mr. Brown, who presented no concrete policies during the campaign, won a sweeping mandate Saturday with strength in all regions of the province, from big wins in the GTA, where his outreach to ethnic communities was successful, to Northern Ontario, which he visited nine times in the 10 months, and even Ottawa. He swept the six ridings, including Nepean-Carleton, held by Lisa MacLeod, the outspoken PC MPP, who left the leadership race last February and threw her support behind Ms. Elliott.
Mr. Brown says the wins in the GTA, Northern Ontario and Ottawa "were driving factors behind the victory." His campaign says it signed more than 40,000 new members, helping to increase PC membership from 10,000 after the 2014 election to 76,000. Just over 49 per cent of eligible members cast ballots for the leadership.
"We said at the beginning that the party didn't reflect Ontario and that it had to," said Mr. Brown. "I think [the win] was the ability to engage communities that weren't involved in the party … whether it was cultural communities in urban areas. Whether it was firefighters and police officers in rural Ontario, whether it was people who had given up on the party in Northern Ontario, who I showed up with repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly to make the point that they said, 'You know, maybe he's committed to Northern Ontario.' I think they are among the factors that contributed to it."
He added that it didn't hurt having an endorsement from Wayne Gretzky or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showing up at his campaign rally.
Ten months ago when Mr. Brown entered the race, his campaign commissioned a poll of the existing 10,000 PC members; he had less than 15 per cent, says his campaign chair Walied Soliman, a Bay Street lawyer and long-time friend. But by late March, that support was up to 40 per cent, he said.
"He was adamant. He did not accept something called a non-winnable riding," said Mr. Soliman.
"With a 62-38 split there is … a clear unambiguous mandate," Mr. Soliman said. "With wide support from traditional Conservatives across all geographies and with the new Conservatives, there is an unambiguous mandate."