There was always the chance that Patrick Brown's bizarre and perplexing entry into the Ontario Tory leadership contest might blow up before a single vote was cast. On Monday it did.
In a four-page letter to senior party officials, Mr. Brown announced that he was ending his campaign. In his correspondence, the Barrie MPP alluded to the many troubles that have dogged him in recent weeks, including CTV's explosive report, which included allegations of sexual misconduct.
"After a week of self-reflection, it is clear that the hit job perpetrated against me by CTV and my political adversaries continues to be a distraction from important discussions …" Mr. Brown said in his letter.
The letter also cited concerns he had for his friends and family. He said they had been subjected to attacks, and that he could not allow his family to suffer because of his ambition.
But we also know that Mr. Brown made the announcement on the same day the province's Integrity Commissioner made public the fact he was launching an investigation into Mr. Brown's financial affairs and allegations of impropriety. Also, on Monday the Toronto Star reported that, as leader, Mr. Brown had directed party officials to get the result he wanted in a Hamilton riding being investigated by police.
There was no indication that the forces within the Tory party who had been leaking damaging information about Mr. Brown were about to stop. And that, more than anything, likely compelled him to make the decision he did.
And it was always a possibility. In fact, it was a scenario discussed in the Brown camp from the outset of his leadership bid. His most senior communications adviser, Alise Mills, told me more than a week ago that Mr. Brown might ultimately opt for the role of "kingmaker" before the leadership contest was over. In other words, if it became clear he had no chance, then he was going to throw his support behind someone he thought could win.
Mr. Brown's team understood as well as anyone that this was likely to be an ugly, bloody battle given how most of the Tory caucus felt about him. His senior advisers understood it might get so bad that the candidate might need to focus on the serious allegations being directed his way and not his star-crossed leadership bid.
At some point, I would not be surprised to see him throw his support behind Christine Elliott, who refrained from criticizing him for getting into the race in the same way Doug Ford and Caroline Mulroney did. There is also the not-insignificant fact that Ms. Elliott is in the lead, according to published polls that were not associated with anyone's particular campaign.
What would Mr. Brown want in exchange? Most certainly a position in an Elliott cabinet. (Although right now I'm not sure Mr. Brown is in a position to be demanding anything). The trials and tribulations of Mr. Brown have revealed many things, including the fact he is heavily mortgaged. A cabinet minister's salary of $165,000 or so would go a long way toward paying the bills. That might sound mercenary, but we all have bottom-line considerations in our lives.
Quid pro quos like the one I've suggested aren't uncommon in politics. Whether Ms. Elliott or someone else would be prepared to guarantee the former party leader a seat at the table is another thing entirely. It would likely take a reading of the caucus: How much political capital is a leader prepared to spend on a damaged entity like Mr. Brown? More than likely, the Brown brand, such as it is these days, is too toxic for anyone to go near.
It's worth noting that Ontario Liberals issued a release on Monday attacking Ms. Elliott for refusing to denounce or disassociate herself from Mr. Brown amid sexual misconduct allegations; likely another reason why any public endorsement from Mr. Brown would be a non-starter for Ms. Elliott or any of the other candidates. (Mr. Brown did not endorse any candidate in his letter leaving the race. We don't even know whether he will still run in the next election.)
There will be much relief throughout the Ontario Progressive Conservative party now that Mr. Brown has pulled out (although because the deadline for doing such things has passed, his name will remain on the ballot). He will stop being the massive distraction he has been to the campaign and the party.
Had he become leader again, who knows what would happen to the important work currently under way to rid the party of some of the "rot" that had begun to set in during his tenure. There are questions about the party's membership list that won't be sorted out for months. The party is broken. It needs to be fixed. And that work couldn't be done if Mr. Brown had been back at the helm.
The Brown affair has also left some bitter feelings among Ontario PCs. Say what you want about the man, he does have his allies, many of whom Mr. Brown recruited to politics himself. Many of his acolytes are angry at the way Mr. Brown was treated by senior caucus members, including people such as Randy Hillier, who made some incendiary charges against his former leader.
The next leader of the Ontario PCs will have a huge job trying to smooth over the many hurt feelings that have been caused by the Brown affair. There are some deep, angry divisions in the party. That is not a great state to be in just ahead of an important provincial election.
But for now, one of the sorriest sagas in Ontario Tory politics would appear to be over. Or we could be at the beginning of an internecine party war the likes of which the province has never seen.
The Canadian Press