The Ontario Progressive Conservatives need to cool their jets – and fast.
It’s been a frustrating few days watching the resignations, bloodletting, drama, rumour mill and headless chickens dominate the news headlines. Many people have lost perspective, various political factions are rising and falling, and the party’s political momentum is on life support.
The starting point was Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown’s stunning fall from grace. It was part of a series of political resignations involving allegations of sexual misconduct last week. (Nova Scotia PC Leader Jamie Baillie and federal Liberal cabinet Kent Hehr fell by the wayside, too.)
Brown’s resignation was painful to watch from a personal standpoint. I’ve known him for about 25 years. I wrote a long column last October to help unlock the mystery behind his political ideology. I believed the People’s Guarantee was a measured (albeit far from perfect) policy document with respect to responsible government, taxation and public funding. I wanted him to succeed and become the 26th premier of Ontario.
What once seemed attainable – and rather likely, in fact – is now ancient history.
After two unnamed women spoke with CTV News’s Glen McGregor on Jan. 24 alleging sexual misconduct that occurred when Brown was a federal Conservative MP, the alarm bells were set off. This was followed by Brown’s 81-second horror show of a press conference, the resignation of several key advisers and strategists, and senior party officials, MPPs and political candidates abandoning him en masse.
Within four hours, Brown had virtually no allies, no support base – and no choice, other than the obvious. He tendered his resignation in the wee hours of the morning of Jan. 25, and has kept to the shadows ever since.
Are the allegations true or false? It wasn’t a big secret that Brown, like most single guys without family or spousal commitments, dated different women. And, while I pay little attention to political gossip, I never – ever – heard stories tying him to sexual misconduct.
Brown can obviously choose to fight these allegations in the court of law, which is how our democracy works. But when it came to the court of public opinion, which is a different arena with a different set of rules, he’d already been knocked out.
His fiefdom of loyalists and party supporters has predictably started to crumble as the PCs clean house. This included the removal of executive director Bob Stanley (a longtime political operative) and party president Rick Dykstra (hours before Maclean’s released a piece about an allegation of sexual misconduct that reportedly occurred when he was a federal Tory MP).
Interim PC Leader Vic Fedeli has attempted to right this political ship and maintain some order. It’s been a daunting task. There are questions about fundraising and finances. The party’s executive committee and grassroots followers co-exist in a battleground of agenda-driven controversies and ego-fueled strategies. Speculation that other senior officials and MPPs may get caught up in Ontario’s #MeToo campaign are running rampant.
Plus, a leadership race will be held in March. Fedeli will be a candidate, which is unusual for an interim leader. He’ll be joined by Doug Ford, elder brother of the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Ford is also a former Toronto city councillor and mayoral candidate. Other possible contenders include Caroline Mulroney (daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney), Neil Davis (son of former Ontario premier Bill Davis) and ex-Postmedia president Rod Phillips.
It’s going to be a busy couple of months.
Things will eventually calm down in Ontario PC land. They always do in politics. But it would wise for party elders and grassroots members to either shut up or turn down the volume to help get this political house back into working order.
If not, Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath will be the main beneficiaries of this apocalyptic PC breakdown.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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