Last Wednesday, Patrick Brown, according to many polls, was poised to become Ontario’s next premier.
Following a bombshell that overnight dramatically altered the province’s political landscape, by Thursday, Brown had been disposed of, leaving the PC party scrambling and the next chapter of our provincial political narrative unclear.
As for the allegations surrounding Brown and now-former PC president Rick Dykstra, they will not be dealt with in this column.
Let’s be frank. This spring’s election was supposed to be the one where we got rid of Kathleen Wynne. Her government, an extension of the Dalton McGuinty one that began in 2003, has surpassed its best-before date. Governments at both the provincial and federal level tend to curdle after a decade or so. Amid soaring hydro rates and corruption scandals, Wynne’s approval rating neared single-digit territory at one point. Farmers at a plowing match booed her. The writing on the wall of Queen’s Park seemed pretty clear.
Brown, for his part, was nothing spectacular as a party leader. Underwhelming, in fact, and a proven waffle, flip-flopping on issues depending on whom he was speaking to. A former federal MP and Harper backbencher, he was an unlikely choice to lead the party. The PCs should have chosen Christine Elliott for the role, something most party members are no doubt thinking to themselves now.
Brown’s single greatest asset was that he was not Kathleen Wynne. In a province that largely likes to choose between two political parties to form its governments, he was the viable alternative.
The question now is can the PC party still be the viable alternative, embroiled in chaos as it is, just four months before the writ is to drop?
The answer is yes, if it can get its act together.
Party leaders are the public faces of their parties, but they are not their parties. Platforms and policy are usually actually driven by back room policy wonks.
Brown was not the PC party, just its face. Late last week the party appointed an interim leader in the form of Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, and, at least at press time, the party plans to hold a leadership race that should conclude in March.
It seems wasteful that the PCs are even having a leadership campaign before the election. It will be an inward-looking distraction when the focus should be outward, on their opponents. A few months is not enough time to familiarize Ontarians with a new leader anyway.
But certainly members of the party should stop publicly infighting about whether or not to have a leadership race before the election. It doesn’t scream “ready to lead.”
Those who vote for the PC party this spring will mostly be voting for the party itself. If the party is able to convince Ontarians that it is organized, that it is united, that it is still able to govern and that its policies will be better for them than more years of Wynne, it can still form government.
However, as the party was unravelling in real time earlier this week, its inner tensions boiling over into the public forum, the Liberals were busy announcing tens of millions of dollars for new schools.
This was to be an election the PCs could easily walk away with. That walk is now uphill.