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U.S.-style sex­ual al­le­ga­tions and be­hind-the-scenes shenani­gans boil over in On­tario pol­i­tics, defin­ing the PCs

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - Libby Znaimer

NO WON­DER peo­ple are in­creas­ingly cyn­i­cal about pol­i­tics. There is a nev­erend­ing stream of al­le­ga­tions against peo­ple in power, run­ning the gamut from sex­ual mis­con­duct, cor­rup­tion, fi­nan­cial im­pro­pri­ety, rigged elec­tions and col­lu­sion with for­eign pow­ers. Since the elec­tion of Donald Trump, U.S. pol­i­tics have most re­sem­bled a hit re­al­ity show, and we’ve been watch­ing smugly from across the bor­der. But now the circus has come to town.

The saga of for­mer On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader Patrick Brown had it all. For those with­out any skin in the game, my­self in­cluded, it was riv­et­ing, un­like any­thing ever seen in On­tario pol­i­tics. I came away feel­ing as though I’d been holed up for days watch­ing Net­flix – in other words, mild guilt in­stead of the sat­is­fac­tion that comes af­ter cov­er­ing a story in­ten­sively. As to the facts: with so much dirt thrown in ev­ery di­rec­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to know what to be­lieve, frankly, dif­fi­cult to be­lieve any­thing. And I fear that is the way pub­lic dis­course is go­ing.

Patrick Brown was un­done by anony­mous ac­cusers who told CTV News he pushed them into un­wanted sex­ual contact when they were very young and very drunk, and he was a sober MP, at least a decade older. Brown was given a few hours to re­spond be­fore the story was broad­cast. He held a dis­as­trous news con­fer­ence 15 min­utes to air, where he de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and vowed to stay on. His staff de­serted him en masse – re­sign­ing via Twit­ter – while he was alone at the podium. No one sup­ported him dur­ing a cau­cus con­fer­ence call in the wee hours, and Brown re­signed by morn­ing.

He hid out for the first cou­ple of weeks un­til he went to the hos­pi­tal for a pre­vi­ously sched­uled pro­ce­dure. He says ev­ery­one in the wait­ing room came up to show sup­port and shake his hand, and that’s when he de­cided to fight back. The sen­ti­ment is un­der­stand­able – it’s easy to sym­pa­thize with such a ca­reer-de­stroy­ing take­down with no due process and no way to con­front the ac­cusers. Brown in­sisted it was a po­lit­i­cal hit.

HE HIRED lawyers, cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tions and a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor. When I in­ter­viewed Brownon­myra­dioshow(Fight­Back, on Zoomer Ra­dio AM740), he wouldn’t tell me how much such an ef­fort costs or how he was pay­ing for it. They found key de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions were wrong – most no­tably, one of the al­leged vic­tims was not un­der­age and in high school when the in­ci­dent sup­pos­edly took place, as CTV had re­ported. Brown pre­sented this as “mon­u­men­tal” proof of his in­no­cence. But both CTV and the ac­cuser stood by the story. She

said through her lawyer that “col­lat­eral de­tails,” such as the time­line dif­fer­ence from what she first re­called, “are not im­por­tant.” Brown then took two lie de­tec­tor tests, passed, and then de­clared his name cleared. The PC’s in­terim leader Vic Fedeli dis­agreed, and kicked him out of the cau­cus, say­ing the party was full of “rot,” which had to be cleared.

Brown’s scrappy re­sponse: he en­tered the race to re­place him­self. That led to a slew of other al­le­ga­tions about his fi­nan­cial af­fairs. Brown blamed his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies and said for­mer staffers stole his per­sonal in­for­ma­tion and leaked it se­lec­tively. He de­flected ev­ery crit­i­cism, in­clud­ing the one that came from those who sym­pa­thized with his plight – that his run was a self­ish move that hurt his party.

Brown’s bid seemed to be gain­ing trac­tion – he had sup­port, es­pe­cially in his home­town. The in­ter­nal polling from his camp found he was neck and neck for the lead. So why did he step down again 10 days af­ter plunk­ing down a $100,000 de­posit to start his cam­paign? He said he re­al­ized that he could not fight the al­le­ga­tions and the Lib­er­als at the same time. He ac­knowl­edgedthathis­can­di­da­cy­was suck­ing all the oxy­gen out of the race. He also cited the toll on his fam­ily: “It has been gut-wrench­ing to see my own fam­ily in tears, pushed to the edge, even suf­fer­ing anx­i­ety and panic at­tacks that re­quired med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion.” A se­nior cam­paign staffer told me he and his fam­ily had re­ceived death threats. That, shock­ingly, also seems to be de rigueur in pol­i­tics th­ese days.

The race was marred by com­plaints that thou­sands of mem­bers were un­able to reg­is­ter their votes through the on­line sys­tem. An in­junc­tion to stop the March 10 con­ven­tion was dis­missed at the eleventh hour. The event was al­lowed to go ahead, but it was likened to a “dump­ster fire.” Party mem­bers who paid $50 to at­tend were fi­nally or­dered to go home four hours af­ter the re­sults were sup­posed to be out. Lawyers and scru­ti­neers re­viewed dis­puted bal­lots for another three hours be­fore declar­ing pop­ulist Doug Ford, brother to the in­fa­mous late Rob, the nar­row win­ner. Sec­ond place fin­isher Chris­tine El­liott al­leged se­ri­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties un­til she con­ceded 24 hours later.

You would think all of this has caused ir­repara­ble harm to the PCs. But as of this writ­ing, the polls show they are still poised to beat the un­pop­u­lar Lib­er­als in the up­com­ing elec­tion. In­sid­ers ap­plauded Brown’s with­drawal. No ques­tion the may­hem around him stole the spot­light. But it is a much brighter light than the party would have oth­er­wise re­ceived. We binge-watched the tu­mul­tuous de­ba­cle. Hav­ing cap­tured our eye­balls gives the PCs an ad­van­tage. They just have to keep them for the se­quel.

Doug Ford in stu­dio for a live in­ter­view on Fight Back with Libby Znaimer on Feb. 12 shortly af­ter he en­tered the lead­er­ship race

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