"Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it."
Patrick Brown's decision to drop out of the leadership race is the best news that beleaguered Ontario Progressive Conservatives have had in months. It is dreadful news for Premier Kathleen Wynne.
With the former Tory leader's final, permanent departure, the path to power remains broad for the Ontario Conservatives in the June 7 provincial election, and narrow for the NDP. The path for the Liberals appears to be invisible.
Remember, before allegations of sexual misconduct forced Mr. Brown to quit as leader in January, his party was favoured to win the June election, despite the lukewarm impression he left on voters.
After four consecutive Liberal governments, eight out of 10 voters say it is time for a change. That number has not budged, even after the Tory tempests of the past few weeks.
The numbers might have moved toward the Liberals had Mr. Brown continued in his bid to win back the leadership. He has been expelled from caucus. MPPs would have refused to run under his banner. Had he won, disgusted voters might have returned to the devil they know, or to Andrea Horwath's NDP. Even if he had lost, his campaign would have stoked divisions and resentment among Conservatives. He was bad news.
But now he is gone, making it even more likely that Christine Elliott or Caroline Mulroney will lead the party into the next election, and even more likely that Ms. Wynne is toast.
There is still, of course, the question of Doug Ford. The former Toronto councillor and brother to Rob Ford presents himself as a Donald Trump light – loud of mouth, hostile toward the hoity-toity set, socially conservative, a hater of carbon taxes. His actual policies – although they are few and far between – are not all that extreme. But he presents himself as a political Don Cherry: all bluster and braggadocio, fuelling resentment over entitlement and waste, a man born to polarize.
We will all get to see him one more time, during Wednesday's second and final leadership debate. If you watch it, ask yourself: How likely is it that Ms. Elliott's supporters would make Mr. Ford their second choice? How many of Ms. Mulroney's supporters would choose Mr. Ford? That's the thing. You're either all in or all out for Doug Ford. And with a ranked ballot, the person who is the second choice of most voters is likely to win.
Even the safer choices of Ms. Mulroney or Ms. Elliott come with risks. The former is a businesswoman with no political experience who could flame out under the pressure of the campaign. The latter is a former MPP who ran for the leadership twice and lost. Maybe there is a reason for that. Whoever prevails, the party will be fractured and fractious – hardly an ideal state to enter an election campaign.
One unknown is how many Progressive Conservative party members will register to vote on the leadership. A very low number could skew the result – perhaps in favour of Ford Nation.
And to repeat the cliché: Campaigns matter. Few expected Justin Trudeau to lead the Liberals to victory in the 2015 federal election. Even fewer expected Donald Trump to become U.S. President. (This space pleads guilty on both counts.)
Finally, don't count out Ms. Horwath. If the Tories have a bad election campaign, voters might yet turn to the New Democrats. Change elections can be volatile. Ms. Horwath remains highly popular, even if her party is running a close third.
Despite all those caveats, the fact that Mr. Brown is no longer around to roil the waters greatly improves the odds for the Ontario Tories. In less than two weeks, they will have a new leader. Barring another political earthquake, that leader will be a woman, and so will the next premier of Ontario.