Has there ever been a political roller-coaster ride like Patrick Brown’s?

By Steve Paikin - Published on October 23, 2018
Patrick Brown greets supporters after being elected mayor of Brampton
On Monday night, Patrick Brown was elected mayor of Brampton, beating incumbent Linda Jeffrey. (Chris Young/CP)

Has anyone in Ontario political history ever experienced a year like Patrick Brown just experienced?

I’d say no.

In January, Brown was still leading the Progressive Conservatives. He’d filled the party’s coffers, he’d attracted dozens of good candidates to run in the June election, and the party was well ahead in the polls — meaning Brown was well on his way to becoming premier. Even the Toronto Star gave Brown’s moderate, centre-right platform, the People’s Guarantee, relatively glowing coverage.

But a CTV News report on January 24 alleging that Brown had engaged in sexual misconduct erased those gains — if not for the Tories, then at least for the MPP from Simcoe North. Some of the details in the report turned out to be false, but the damage was done, and Brown was forced to resign. (Brown is suing CTV for defamation; the broadcaster has stated that it will defend itself in court.) The Tories replaced him as leader with Doug Ford, who in June became Ontario’s 26th premier.

Still, the 40-year-old former MP wouldn’t stay down. He announced his intention to return to politics and run for regional chair of Peel — a position that was to be elected by the region’s residents for the first time ever.

When the PCs cut Toronto’s city council in half, however, they also returned the Peel chairmanship to what it had been before: a position appointed by Peel Council. Once again, Brown was stymied.

He almost immediately turned his attention to Brampton, a place to which he had only a tangential connection (his father has practised law there for decades).

While Brown didn’t have much of a direct, personal connection to Brampton, he enjoyed rock-solid support from the sizeable South Asian community there; he’d spent more than a decade championing issues important to it, going back to his days as an MP in Stephen Harper’s government.

In an unusual twist, some of Ford’s staffers joined the campaign of incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey, herself a former Liberal cabinet minister.

But in the end, Brown staged a shocking and narrow upset of Jeffrey, winning the election by fewer than 4,000 votes.

“I’m really surprised at the results. I didn’t see it coming,” Jeffrey said. “I’m surprised someone who didn’t live here and had a checkered past could come in here and win. It’s not the Brampton I thought I knew.”

Jeffrey’s mayoralty was fraught with challenges from the get-go. On the big issues, she never did enjoy a majority of the votes on council. This was particularly evident when she lost the vote on what route the city’s LRT would take. When council opted against the former Liberal government’s (and Jeffrey’s) preferred route, the province cancelled much of the Brampton leg of the LRT, which will now terminate at the city's Gateway Terminal.

During his victory speech, Brown gave a nod to Brampton’s most famous resident, former premier Bill Davis.

“He’s taught me about being collegial,” Brown said. “He was a great premier who managed to get so much done, even during minority parliaments … I think we need more Bill Davis at Brampton city hall.”

Amazingly, the 89-year-old Davis had recorded a get-out-the-vote robocall for election day, something he’d never done before. While Davis was slow to embrace Brown when the latter was Tory leader, the former premier eventually endorsed him for the Brampton mayoralty and came to feel considerable affection for him.

Brown, who got married just a few weeks ago, joked, “Turns out our honeymoon was door-knocking.”

Ford, while celebrating his nephew’s successful campaign for Toronto city council, insisted he’d have no problems getting along with Brown, saying that he’d work with him “like every other mayor in any other municipality in Ontario.”

Brown sounded a non-partisan note in his victory address: “I don’t care if it’s the Liberals in Ottawa or the Conservatives at Queen’s Park — my party is the people of Brampton, and I want results.”

Back in January, Brown’s political future seemed totally bleak.  Less than a year later, he’s about to become mayor of the fourth-largest city in Ontario, having won the third political job he sought this year alone.

Talk about an unprecedented political resurrection.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the province had completely cancelled the Brampton leg of the LRT. TVO.org regrets the error.