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Ontarians stand to lose as election waters get muddy

The more information that surfaces about the “scandals” that forced Patrick Brown’s ouster from the Ontario PC party, the better his chances look in a lawsuit against CTV. Brown’s decision to re-enter the leadership race is another matter, however.

Swept up in the #MeToo frenzy, Brown was forced to resign as leader of the Progressive Conservatives after reports that seemed tepid even at the time. Subsequent details – including facts that swept away the innuendo about underage drinking, for instance – were far more damning for CTV and the public eager to embrace any and all cases in the post-Weinstein era.

This is not to downplay the important actions and reactions that have resulted from a sea-change in public attitude towards issues such as sexual assault, harassment and toxic workplaces. Far from it. In fact, it’s cases such as Brown’s – few details, considerable innuendo and instant fallout – that will do more harm in the long run if the facts don’t bear out the response.

For now, there’s the issue of how this got to be a story in the first place. It was CTV’s revelations that set off the storm. Now, its story is looking weaker – the news outlet has had to recant some of its facts – and Brown has threatened to sue. Information that has leaked out about the facts and sources involved, if true, weaken the case further still. And strengthen any subsequent lawsuit. A year ago, the weak information leaked out would have gone nowhere, but in the powder-keg environment following the Weinstein case it not only made news, it made an immediate impact.

In that environment, the story was tantamount to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. Matches thrown on gasoline. That volatility demands we all take greater care, not less.

Brown may launch a suit. He may win, and should if the case continues to look as strong as it does. Under those conditions, he should look to clear his name, and for some recompense for what befell him. But he probably shouldn’t look for redemption in running to get his job back – in essence, looking to replace himself as leader.

His presence, along with that of Doug Ford, will only add a sideshow element to the leadership convention. And that will only hurt the party, which seemed on track to oust Kathleen Wynne, whose years of inflicting harm on the province must end. Now, that’s in jeopardy, just like Ontario itself in the prospect of Wynne’s re-election.

Tory infighting aside, Brown had managed to stay under the radar, setting himself up as a viable alternative to Wynne in an era where party and policies play second fiddle to public perception. This is nothing new to provincial Conservatives, who’ve seen missteps from two previous leaders – Tim Hudak and John Tory – snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now, the party will have to move quickly to pick a new leader – Christine Elliott being the only qualified/suitable candidate – and set the agenda before June’s election. Getting back atop the polls is a tall order.

The NDP, of course, will hope disorder in the PC party will make them the alternative choice for Ontarians sick and tired of Wynne’s poor, corrupt governance.

For her part, the deeply unpopular Wynne can only hope that the vote is split and all the outright vote buying she’s done is enough to hang onto power, helping her reach her one, true goal: holding onto power and the perks thereof.

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