Now that he’s won, Patrick Brown has the chance to make all the right moves
Photos by Joel Wittnebel and Mansoor Tanweer

Now that he’s won, Patrick Brown has the chance to make all the right moves

In the cutthroat, give-no-quarter, violent, ego-driven, and often elegant game of NFL football, one man in its history had a blunt and singular philosophy that best summed up the sport: “Just win, baby!” Yes, said Al Davis, the fabled and renegade Oakland Raiders’ owner who rose from virtual obscurity to score the ultimate prize in professional sports, three Super Bowls, and in doing so became the epitome of the ultimate warrior – an unsparing competitor, whose team was dressed in a menacing black and silver with a buccaneer’s patch over the eye of his pirate emblem, with crossed swords in the back. The team took on, and beat up all comers.

Sports offers an easy comparison to the game of politics.

In that arena Patrick Brown stood as a stark juxtaposition, at the relatively young age of 40, to the gridiron mantra. He had become (until last night) the epitome of the winner who lost. In the cutthroat, give-no quarter, ego-driven world of modern-day politics, he was the squishy Red Tory ousted from his position as leader of the PC party of Ontario in January, and only months later, saw his successor and arch-enemy Doug Ford, become premier after scoring a sweeping majority in the June election.

The premier’s job should have been Brown’s, but in mid-life, at an age when most people are feeling confident about their professional fortunes, his was in tatters. It only got worse because trailing behind his leadership loss were charges of sexual impropriety (hotly disputed by him) which, in this age of the #MeToo movement, are near impossible to shake (in many, many cases, thank God that is so). His centrist political agenda didn’t jive with the right-wing orthodoxy being pushed by Ford and friends, either, and so, Brown was thrown to the sidelines, and suffered a serious psychic hurt.

In sports and political terms, he seemed done.

Then it got worse. When he tried to mount a campaign to run for the public vote in a race to become the new chair of Peel Region, Ford stepped in and announced the position would revert back to being chosen by regional council.

This was the fatal one-two shot. But he bounced back again.

On the last day of eligibility to file, he signed up to run for mayor of Brampton which culminated in last night’s vote and his win.

During his race for mayor, he was jabbed with very sharp spears and called the ultimate outsider with only a vague connection to the city. He was mocked by the incumbent and others as a blatant opportunist and the worst kind of carpetbagger.

He looked to be a longshot to win – or even come close. But he did, and he is now positioned in the middle of a high stakes political game, where his and Brampton’s power to influence could ramp up (more on that later).

His gospel going into last night’s election wasn’t Al Davis-like, but even simpler: just win. He needed one – however narrow, however inelegant. And that’s what he got. The margin was razor thin, but he got out to an early lead, and it never wavered over the evening as the results poured in to his celebration being held at Chandni Gateway Banquet Hall, located just south of Queen Street and east of Torbram Road.

The hall was filled with a diverse crowd of supporters, and at the centre was a stage surrounded by two giant screens with updated results. Behind the lectern was a checkerboard of Patrick Brown signs. The constant cheering as the results were shown, the high-decibel music being pumped into the hall, and the large number of media cameras mounted at the back of the room, added even more colour and drama to the event.

Unwittingly (and certainly oozing with irony), the decision by the new premier to ditch the public vote to elect a chair for regional council, not only didn’t kill Brown’s political life, but led directly to his mayoralty bid. To stretch the football analogy even further, as the clock ticked down, and with the quarterback and his campaign team down to its very last play, Brown threw a Hail Mary pass and it won the game.

While charges of political opportunism and the worst kind of carpetbaggery known to man laid against him (including many from his main opponent, Jeffrey), he beat the odds.

It was the stuff of a Hollywood screenplay, and for a sports obsessed person like Brown (a dedicated rink rat), the mayoralty run meant he finally found his footing. The winner won.

He parlayed an on-the-fly game plan, perfectly executed by his team, into victory. But it wouldn’t have happened if other forces beyond his control hadn’t collided at just the right time.

For instance, what if Susan Fennell’s self-proclaimed plan for a dynastic monarchy hadn’t crashed and burned during the final years of her 14-year run as mayor (2000-2014)? That wouldn’t have prompted Linda Jeffrey, then a cabinet minister in the ruling Liberal party at Queen’s Park, to pre-emptively abandon her cushy cabinet posting, and run as the saviour of her adopted city, where she, with her family, had lived since 1985, and for 10 years, operated as a popular councillor.

With Fennell out, the experienced Jeffrey was in, and got fully ordained and blessed by the city’s high priest of politics, Mr. Brampton himself, William G. Davis (no relation to Al). That seemed to certify her chances for a long run of success as our chief executive. After all, having the eminence grise of the PC party of Ontario in your corner, and from a man lovingly nicknamed ‘Brampton Billy’ because of his dedication and commitment to his hometown, she was like a Christian having Christmas and a birthday falling on the same day.

Even if Davis was now the product of a bygone era of rural routes who once drew most of his support from the city’s largely WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) base, he was the virtuous one, the great compromiser, a leader who operated his party and the province as if he were the chairman of the board. He even smoked a pipe and didn’t care if he was dubbed the master of ennui. He easily covered off both sides of the “progressive” and “conservative” mantra, and if you went looking for a pragmatist on any political issue, he was there standing squarely in the middle. He was the opposite of a partisan hack. He would never have eliminated a public vote for Peel chair without consulting all parties. He wouldn’t have cut Toronto city council to a razor thin 25 members, just weeks before last night’s vote – especially with another of his prodigies, John Tory, in office.

Davis didn’t much care what party Jeffrey was affiliated with, or what her ideology was: if she was for good governance, and she could lead the charge to clean up the financial and political mess that Fennell left in her wake, he was all-in. After all, he was the one who supported Fennell all those years ago, in her takeover of the mayor’s chair, to get the city back on track.

Davis bleeds Brampton blue, and mere months after Jeffrey was installed at the helm as chief executive, he showed his displeasure (and eventually dropped his support) when she led a small chorus of council supporters in calling for the proposed Light Rail Transit line (LRT) to run straight up Main Street and into the downtown core – a plan hatched by her former Liberal mates at Queen’s Park.

Davis lived off Main Street, and the Grit plan irked him both personally and politically. Citing her misrepresentation of the facts, when she falsely claimed the Main Street route was a requirement for a future university, Davis was joined by others on council who grew quickly disappointed with Jeffrey’s leadership – or lack thereof.

The post-Fennell era soon tumbled down into another four years of enmity and serious in-fighting.

Then, in a New York minute, along came Brown – the wunderkind of the young PC movement, a two-term councillor from Barrie, first elected at age 22, who later scored three wins under the leadership of the federal Conservative Party under Stephen Harper. He parlayed his time as a federal backbencher, and ran and won easily, yet surprisingly, the leadership of the PC party of Ontario, leading a sign-up campaign for new members (including many from Brampton) that led to his victory over the favoured Christine Elliott, and put him in the enviable position of leader of a party that was now poised to take on the hated Wynne-led Liberals in the next election go-round. He was destined to be our next premier.

But the political shenanigans surrounding his ouster were watched by everyone interested in politics, and that included Davis, from the quiet comfort of his Brampton home. He saw Brown being eviscerated by his own party, then fried and fricasseed by the press (he was going to be Ontario’s next premier, according to an $8 million lawsuit against CTV filed by the former PC leader, who alleges his political career and reputation were “demolished” by the reporting of sexual misconduct allegations. The broadcaster denies the claim).

He was sent further into political purgatory when Ford got in a snit and ruined his chances to run for chair at Peel region. When Brown put his name forth on the last day to enter the race for mayor, the 89-year-old Davis went to the wall, pulled out his old helmet and body armour, and like Don Quixote, summoned up perhaps the last of his depleting energy, and went into battle for him, giving out another endorsement. On election day, he even voiced over a Go-Brown-Go robo-call to voters. Yes, Davis had pulled off a unique political parlour trick: he had now personally endorsed both candidates running in last night’s race for mayor.

Davis was an old football player himself. According to a family member, he once “tanked” his grade 13 along with four others to try and return the following year so his team at Brampton High School could take a run at Runnymede Collegiate in the high school football championship.

Obviously, he was hoping Brown would quarterback his team to victory over Jeffrey. When he did, and was summoned to the stage to thank his campaign team, he was joined on stage at the Chandni hall by ex-councillor turned ardent supporter Elaine Moore, and Dave Kapil, a key member of the citizens group New Brampton. He thanked them, his supporters, and his wife Genevieve Gualtieri – who, in another interesting plot twist, was married to Brown in mid-campaign, before the newlyweds spent their honeymoon door-knocking for votes. In a final and extended and heartfelt thank you, he sent a special message to Mr. Davis.

“He is a friend and mentor, and an inspiration, and we’re lucky to have him live in the city,” he said. Brown added that he called his hero at home, and said he thanked him for his “love of Brampton and your friendship.”

He told the crowd Bill Davis can teach us a lot about how to be non-partisan. He said that was a great lesson he hopes to take to city council. “We’re a team, we have to listen to each other,” he noted. That means drawing ideas from different members, and that will make Brampton stronger. He concluded by saying: “We need more Bill Davises at Brampton city hall.”

If it was a healing message, it didn’t include a congratulation to vanquished rival Jeffrey who, it must be said, took some nasty swipes at Brown during the race, including questioning residency (he moved downtown with his wife during the campaign). She also brought up the unproven allegations of sexual misconduct.  

Win or lose, it’s clear the Brown saga was one of the most compelling in Ontario on election night. If he lost, his would have been the ultimate fall from grace, the one-time boy wonder of the PC youth movement (drawn into politics by Davis’s legacy of cool leadership and the power of The Big Blue Machine) who as leader of the PCs, dragged behind him charges that his leadership skills were rife with in-house maneuverings that disrupted a nomination in the Hamilton-Ancaster riding where police were called in and are still investigating. Later, in the last days of the campaign, skimpy claims were rolled out (after provincial government information was leaked to certain media) suggesting he overpaid severance packages to his staffers in the party during the last days of his leadership, which he flatly denied.

The Davis prodigy was viewed by those trying to frame the narrative of his character as a political pariah, a pathogen, something to be removed.

After Ford had plunged the knife and gave it a nice twist to end his bid for the regional chair, Brown was left lost and searching for another chance for political redemption. When the opportunity to challenge Jeffrey came, he jumped, and it did cue his comeback.

Although Brown’s win wasn’t dominant (his 44.43 per cent was less than Jeffrey’s 49 per cent in 2014), it was enough, and for the man named Davis living on Main Street, it was a proud moment. The other Davis, laid to rest in 2011 in his beloved Oakland, is also conjured, for his simple sports philosophy.

Yes, Brown channeled his best Al and Bill to just win, baby! In the process, he became the 51st mayor of the historic city of Brampton. 

He didn’t do it along the path most taken, and won from the outside in. The victory completes his personal and political comeback and gives him a unique pocket of power. It will be interesting to see how he runs with it.

Unlike party politics, Brown is now just one vote on council. Perhaps his biggest challenge is healing the schism that is deeply ingrained on council, and might have been further exacerbated last night when some more Jeffrey friendly councillors were elected as part of another significant change coming from last night’s vote. Jeffrey’s failed top-down, cabinet minister-style approach to council, is a cautionary tale that Brown might want to study and avoid. Like him, she comes from the realm of party politics where you ask for things, and they get done – you don’t have to build consensus.

During her early days on council, she got rid of the Lord’s Prayer, and she said it was supported by council – which it wasn’t, entirely. That bully-pulpit stance started the alienation that would riddle her leadership. Her support of a Main Street LRT line was one of the reasons she broke further with council, and Davis. But there were others, too many to mention.

Brown says he will take on the challenge of confronting increased violent crime and trying to build up the business community, keeping property taxes at current levels, and working to increase hospital funding for the city, improving transportation options, and in general, fighting for what’s due the taxpayers of the city.

Sports and politics are uncompromising, cruel, and sometimes, ever barbarous.

Winning is everything – and it doesn’t matter if it’s by one, or one hundred. It’s a lesson that makes both games so compelling, and riddled with both joy and heartache. Brown has suffered the pangs of one, and the exaltation of another in less than a calendar year. His renewed political life begins today.

But there are serious challenges ahead. As he often referred to during the election, about 60 per cent of city residents leave town every day to go to work somewhere else. Is that why only 34.5 per cent of them bothered to vote in this municipal election, and why those numbers are some of the worst in the province? Is there any loyalty to Brampton? And how do you create a sense of community and engagement when people have so few touchstones to seal them to their city?

It’s the level of government closest to their wallets, but voter turnout means political engagement is sorely lacking. Unless newer forms of democratic practices are tried (online voting, a ranked ballot system tried for the first time in London, Ontario, last night, for example), the vote counts will continue to be embarrassingly low.

A red flag was raised in Brown’s acceptance speech. As mentioned, there were no kind words for Jeffrey. She not only mocked his qualifications to run for mayor (especially his residency), but she brought up the old charges of sexual innuendo during the mayor’s debate at the Rose Theatre and at other times. Brown bristled, but quietly moved to another subject – much to his credit. But, obviously, it burned him then, and now.

That’s unfortunate, because there’s already talk that Jeffrey’s name should be put forward to be elected the next Peel chair by regional council – a job Brown originally wanted. And a job that both Miles and Moore might still hope to fill.

Does Brown have the ability to put personal animosity behind, and support a Jeffrey bid? Or, even more impressive, will he lead one? Might he and she make an impressive one-two punch on regional council, and help push forward a more pro-Brampton agenda, using her leverage within Peel, at Queen’s Park (specifically with her recent ally, Doug Ford) and in Ottawa?

The move would be rich with irony, and at the same time, make him look magnanimous and like a true healer.

Brown has already tasted some sweet political revenge by winning the Brampton mayor’s race. If he is truly a Davis-like leader (Bill, not Al), he might put his personal animosities behind, and heal a badly divided electorate and what looks like a progressive council. This will send out a clear message that he really is a politician that can stand firmly in the middle of any issue, just like Brampton Billy, to move it forward.

In sports and politics, it used to be that winning was enough. But Fennell’s failed tenure, and Jeffrey’s inability to find consensus led to their eventual demise. More tragically, it continued the city on its downward path. Is Brown open enough to not play one side against the other?

Political fortunes change quickly. Premier Ford’s decision to give Brown another political slap down, might not only have cost him any local influence he might have on Brampton council, but he’s now potentially vulnerable right across the entire region of Peel – if Brown can summon up some powerful forces to ally with him. Jeffrey is the perfect bridge with Mississauga, led by her good friend Bonnie Crombie. This is a huge block of votes from one of Canada’s great economic engines.

In his acceptance speech Brown warned all federal and provincial politicians who want to visit Brampton for a quick photo-op and take advantage of this city to win seats in Queen’s Park or Ottawa. If all they want to do is plump up their majorities, without offering anything in return, stay home!

“If you want to visit Brampton, we deserve investment that comes with that visit,” he cautioned. Jeffrey, in four years, never used such language toward her Liberal political masters in the higher realms of government.

Brown, if true to his words, will demand Brampton’s generous tax dollars be returned back to the city to help improve our overcrowded hospitals, clear up our transportation needs and help put more cops on the streets and resources for modern policing to solve the rising gun violence. Brown’s list is long, and could easily grow. Just like the exploding population being pushed on Brampton by the province and the feds by their policies, which have not been matched with money from them to pay for the growth.

The former political party leader of the provincial PCs, who was also a federal party member, now says his party “is the people of Brampton.”

It’s that kind of team approach that made both Bill and Al Davis legends, on and off the football field, shiny examples of long-term winners.

The ball is in Brown’s hands now. After decades of failure, caused by an unwillingness to play as a team, we’ll soon see if he’s the right leader for this city.

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