Patrick Brown reminds me of a really bad boyfriend. The more you find out about him, the worse it gets. There's something sneaky and sharp about the way he operates. His taste for age-inappropriate women is a little creepy. Everything is always all about him. Add it up and he's just too weird. So you break up with him. But he won't go away! He busts back into your apartment and demands another chance. You give in. You wonder if he's going to boil your bunny.
That's how most of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party must be feeling right about now: Bullied by a guy they want no part of, and desperate to move on. The voters of Ontario are desperate too. Fifteen years of Liberal rule have led them to a state of simmering mutiny. Four out of five of them, according to one poll, would vote for a tree stump before they'd vote for Kathleen Wynne.
But it might not be a Tory stump. It might be an NDP stump instead. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is now the most popular politician in the province, if only by default. History shows that even the NDP can win in Ontario if the voters are fed up enough.
Meanwhile, Ontario's grand old Tory party is devouring itself with infighting, backstabbing, and allegations of membership fraud on a massive scale. Why are we only finding out about these things now? Who was covering up before? Just three months and a bit before the election in June, it has no leader, no platform, and next to no credibility. How can you expect these guys to run the most populous province in the country when they can't even govern themselves?
It wasn't supposed to be this way. They vowed that this time would be different. This time, they wouldn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by electing a leader as seemingly unlikeable and incompetent as Tim Hudak. Lesson learned.
Only it wasn't. So now, instead of a leader, they have a full-out gong show. No wonder some people ask if the party will survive.
In fact, the grand old Tory party is long gone. It's been a generation since the soporific reign of the greatest Tory leader ever, Bill (Brampton Billy) Davis. His motto was "Bland works." He was everybody's favourite uncle. He commanded the middle of the road as no one has done before or since. Today's party is a quarrelsome mix of social conservatives, social liberals, rural folks, and upwardly mobile strivers from the 905 belt who are too busy fighting with themselves to fight with their mutual enemy. Mr. Davis must be wondering if his party has been taken over by dybbuks.
I won't dwell on the character of Mr. Brown. Others have done that. My question is why – with everything we know about him now – he won the leadership in the first place. Surely one reason was that the #MeToo era was still to come. People knew next to nothing about his personal life, and didn't care. The public didn't know that he was a party animal, or dated interns, and if they had a lot of them would not have cared. We judge these things more harshly now.
The other day, Mr. Brown's current girlfriend, a 23-year-old former intern named Genevieve Gualtieri, supplied a character reference. Mr. Brown is "one of the most respectful, decent and caring individuals I have ever met," she told the Toronto Star. Perhaps he felt this testimonial would help his image. It didn't. They've been dating off and on since she was 21.
There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Brown was badly treated by both his own party and the media. When there are allegations involving sexual impropriety, men today get very little slack. They're assumed guilty until proven innocent, and Mr. Brown had no chance to defend himself. But his judgment has been terrible. He still thinks he stands a chance of being premier. He seems to think he can run on the campaign slogan "I'm not really guilty of sexual misconduct." Or he's so full of vengeance that if he can't have what he wants, he figures that at least he can wreck it for everybody else.
Ironically, Mr. Brown's platform wasn't bad. It was designed to appeal to middle-of-the-road, Mom-and-Pop Ontario. No scary slash-and-burning here. It promised a reasonable corrective for the Liberals' many excesses. Even Bill Davis might have liked it.
What the Tories might come up with now is anybody's guess. And the three plausible candidates on offer (not including Mr. Brown and the anti-sex-ed lady) are nobody's ideal choices. Rob Ford's older brother, Doug, makes liberal Tories burst out in hives. But his simple, anti-elitist message should not be underrated. Christine Elliott is an uninspiring but probably competent long-time party member. Caroline Mulroney is the attractive novice whose idea of a starter job is premier of Canada's most populous province. Any of them could win. But the biggest winner of all could be the NDP, which might wind up holding the balance of power as the miserable voters search for anybody plausible.
No wonder the voters of Ontario are tearing out their hair. I know I am. We never signed up for a gong show. But now we've got one.