Even on his best days, leading in the polls and raising lots of cash and glad-handing with the best of them, it was never entirely clear why Patrick Brown wanted to be leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
He didn't have a notable interest in the mechanics of the government he was hoping to run after this spring's election, or any real fundamental differences with the province's ruling Liberals. He never seemed to have quite grown out of the youth politician he had been, two decades before: the sort with ambition for ambition's sake, a love of politics as a game with personal advancement the only real objective.
Now, we have confirmation, courtesy of a bizarre week of flame-throwing that culminated in his announcement that he will run again for the job he vacated three weeks ago amid sexual-misconduct allegations: For Patrick Brown, public life is all about Patrick Brown.
And regardless of how he rationalizes it to himself, he is willing to do harm to the party in which he has spent most of his life – and perhaps even to the province he purports to still want to govern – if he thinks it's within his competitive interest.
Yes, Mr. Brown has the right to defend himself publicly against the pair of allegations that forced him to step down. He is also free to argue that he was not initially given enough chance to do so.
But however unfairly he believes he was treated, he cannot possibly think he is now the best person to lead the PCs into the next election, unless he has willed himself to overlook a whole bunch of things that would stop most anyone else's leadership bid in its tracks.
He has not "cleared" his name, as he claims. There has been one substantive change in the reporting of the allegations, about the age of one of the alleged victims, and a bunch of stories he and his supporters have fed select media outlets aimed at casting him as more credible than his accusers. His alleged misconduct very much remains a live story, and might through the provincial campaign.
The allegations have, even in his best-case scenario in which his denials are accepted, brought public attention to behaviour – partying with very young interns in his employ while a thirtysomething MP, for instance – that conflicts with the sort of image would-be premiers try to project.
If he won, he would retake the helm of the caucus that forced his resignation, and has since gone out of its way to convey how glad it is to be rid of him.
And he is now saddled not just with the sexual-misconduct allegations, but also with what the party's interim leader dubbed "rot" under his watch. Mr. Brown is said to have boasted of vastly inflated membership sales; there are questions about excessive spending on legal bills; nominations of local candidates are being overturned due to alleged vote-rigging.
Does he believe he could win the leadership in spite of all this? Well, maybe. He has loyalty among influential members of his party (including nominated candidates and community power brokers), there are chunks of the general membership that think he was wronged, and he's proven himself a hard-working and effective organizer in the past.
He may also believe that just entering the leadership contest helps prove his faith that he did nothing wrong, and that even placing somewhat competitively would help prove others' faith too.
But what is clear is that he is willing to risk taking a whole lot down with him – including the ability of his party to mount a successful general-election campaign, and the opportunity for Ontarians to have a viable alternative to their unpopular current government – as he tries to fight his recent fate.
That much is obvious not just from the leadership filing, but from the rest of the zero-sum game he played this week – absurd suggestions that he didn't actually resign the leadership after all, insinuations of conspiracies against him, a media blitz overshadowing his would-be replacements efforts to compete in something approaching a normal campaign.
Amid all this, he scarcely bothered to seize his most obvious opportunity to assert that it was about some greater good. As the candidates to succeed him abandon party policy positions like a carbon tax, he made only the most passing of claims he was getting back into the ring to fight for the platform prepared under his watch. It wasn't about that sort of thing. It never was.
But this isn't youth politics any more. The governance of 13 million people is at stake. It's time to grow up.
The Canadian Press