In a span of a few hours on Wednesday night, Patrick Brown went from having an entire party machine at his back to being the loneliest guy in Ontario.
The political professionals he had brought in – his chief of staff, campaign director, messaging guru – were out the door before CTV's report about his alleged sexual misconduct had aired. He thought they would be alongside him as he delivered the emergency statement they helped script; instead, he ran from the cameras alone, learning afterward they had announced their resignations on Twitter while he was speaking.
Then the caucus he led – singing his praises publicly until that day – instructed him to step down by dawn. Now, having already chosen his replacement, some of them want him out of caucus altogether.
And as Mr. Brown disappeared for parts unknown, different sides of the #MeToo debate were left to complain about how the provincial Progressive Conservatives responded to the party's moment in the movement's spotlight.
Those inclined to view such comeuppance as long overdue questioned if the Tories were too willing to turn a blind eye earlier. With social-media posts hinting at Mr. Brown's misbehaviour with women being old news, and MPP Lisa MacLeod saying she had flagged unpleasant rumours internally and been told they were "unfounded," how could he have survived nearly three years at his party's helm?
To the crowd recently warning about a lack of due process, it looked like the latest instance of execution without a trial. How was it fair that two women accusing him of sexual misconduct while they were teenagers didn't have to publicly reveal their identities, and he lost his career and reputation without being able to defend himself?
To understand why neither criticism really holds up, it helps to know some back story. And even as it might help answer the questions about the party's recent handling of this mess, that context raises others about what allowed it to fester for so long in the first place.
Well before Mr. Brown's 2015 ascent to the leadership, rumours about his relationships with women flew around political circles. As a federal MP, he and a few Conservative colleagues styled themselves "frat boys," and made a show of partying with much younger women.
This was often in places where alcohol flowed heavily, despite Mr. Brown never drinking. Among Mr. Brown's crew was Rick Dykstra, subsequently installed as provincial party president, who lost his federal seat after a report about him buying drinks for underage girls.
The whispers about Mr. Brown potentially having inappropriate interactions with young women were strong enough that he or his staff were asked by other Tories whether there was anything they should worry about. While attributing it solely to knowledge of how many sexual partners Mr. Brown had, not of any wrongdoing, one of his advisers said this week that he and his team had run drills for how they would respond to any related controversy.
The reason Mr. Brown lasted as long as he did was, because, amid the smoke, nobody could quite find the fire. His leadership rival, Christine Elliott, is said by sources who worked on her campaign to have enlisted a private investigator who returned with nothing more than more rumour. Everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who said they had a bad experience with him, but alleged victims never materialized publicly.
It would have been unreasonable to expect MPPs or other party insiders to stage a coup on that basis. Mr. Brown was elected by his party's membership, a result that upset caucus members, who overwhelmingly supported Ms. Elliott; they couldn't just try to overturn that democratic result because of unspecific suspicions. All they could do was ask questions, and accept his word that there was nothing to worry about.
It is just as unreasonable, now, to suggest they should have patiently given him time to explain himself – less than five months from an election – when his word proved broken. Politics is not a court of law. People who seek jobs at the highest level of public life do so knowing they will be held to a higher standard. Mr. Brown's implicit promise to his party, when he sought its leadership, was that he could meet that standard. They now have specific evidence he could not.
What is reasonable, and necessary, is to acknowledge something earlier went wrong if someone considered problematic by many in his party got so close to running the country's second-largest government.
Mr. Brown is a product of political-party culture. A PC activist when barely a teenager, president of his party's national youth wing, an MP before his 30th birthday. He learned early on, by all accounts, that positions of power could be a great way to meet women; he got older, and they didn't, and when he was in Ottawa he found other MPs for whom the same rang true.
A boys-will-be-boys attitude in the national capital let him get away with a lot. Maybe more than he would have, if women at the time had been more empowered to come forward. Maybe things that seemed an acceptable shade of grey, before #MeToo.
That last one isn't an excuse for him, even if defenders try to make it so. Political parties try to keep with the times, and many have dumped leaders who don't allow them to do so. Mr. Brown, not yet 40, already proved yesterday's man. Hopefully others aspiring to the same heights he reached are learning, that wielding power the way he did, along the way, can eventually make for a very lonely experience.