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opinion

Patrick Brown’s forced departure from the Conservative leadership race means an almost-certain first-ballot victory for Pierre Poilievre.

Many traditional Conservatives are appalled by the thought. They fear the party could fracture under the Carleton MP’s leadership. They’re wrong.

For better or worse, the Conservative Party is about to become Mr. Poilievre’s personal possession, just as the Liberal Party belongs to Justin Trudeau.

Mr. Poilievre will be the strongest leader the Conservative Party has seen since the days of Stephen Harper. Whether he is the right leader for the country is a different question.

Mr. Brown was never much of a threat to the Poilievre campaign. The Brampton mayor claimed to have signed up 150,000 of the 600,000 members eligible to vote for the leader. Skeptical observers thought the real number of Brown supporters was about half that, most of them concentrated in a handful of ridings in the suburban Greater Toronto Area.

Since all 338 ridings have equal weight in choosing the leader, the path to a Brown victory was always elusive.

And there were storm signals well before the party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee announced Tuesday evening that Mr. Brown had been expelled from the race for alleged but unspecified wrongdoing. He has always been a controversial figure, losing the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario over allegations of inappropriate behaviour, then courting numerous controversies as mayor of Brampton.

One of his earliest supporters, Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner, left Mr. Brown’s leadership campaign in June while pondering a run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party of Alberta. She chose not to run but did not return to the Brown campaign.

Mr. Brown’s campaign manager also departed, as did two MPs who initially supported him. In recent days, Mr. Brown openly speculated about leaving the race and running again to be mayor of Brampton.

Well, Brampton, he’s all yours if you want him.

Supporters of former Quebec premier and leadership candidate Jean Charest will try to spin Mr. Brown’s departure as good news for their campaign, since both Mr. Charest and Mr. Brown have stated that Mr. Poilievre is too right-wing.

But even if the Brown vote splits 2-to-1 in favour of Mr. Charest over Mr. Poilievre, the latter would still have more than enough support for a first-ballot victory. The Poilievre camp says it has signed up 312,000 members, and no one has punctured that claim.

More likely, many of those signed up by the Brown camp, including the many South Asian voters who make up his base, simply won’t vote.

There is no apparent path to victory for Mr. Charest or for Haldimand-Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis.

Mr. Poilievre embraces causes that flout traditional conservative values, especially his support for those protesting vaccine mandates. His infatuation with cryptocurrencies and his determination to fire the Governor of the Bank of Canada contradict conservative respect for established institutions.

Former Conservative senator and party stalwart Marjory LeBreton is worried that the prospect of a Poilievre win has the Conservative Party “fracturing beyond repair.”

This may be true in a limited sense. Radical change within a party always produces defections. When Mr. Harper and Peter MacKay merged the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties into the Conservative Party of Canada, former PC leader Joe Clark announced he was leaving. “This is not my party,” he declared.

The Conservative Party of Canada under Pierre Poilievre may not be Ms. LeBreton’s party, or the party of many traditional conservatives. It will, however, be Mr. Poilievre’s party. In modern politics, strong leaders take ownership of the parties they lead.

Mr. Trudeau ended decades of intraparty squabbling as he took over the Liberal Party of Canada. Mr. Harper did much the same thing with the Conservatives.

After the Conservative leadership results are announced Sept. 10, the party will be Mr. Poilievre’s in a way it never was under Erin O’Toole or Andrew Scheer.

Whether that turns out to be a good thing for the party and the country will be left to voters to decide.

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