A Q&A with Patrick Brown on his tell-all book Take Down
In January, Patrick Brown’s political career was decimated by a CTV news story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by the man who at the time served as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party.
Brown has steadfastly denied the allegations, calling them falsehoods right from the start, and is suing CTV for libel, seeking $8 million in damages.
Now, the incoming mayor of Brampton has detailed his side of the story. In a book to be released Friday, Brown shares what happened that night in January when the story broke across the country, how he was abandoned by senior staffers, and how his caucus swiftly turned on him, ousting him within hours from the leadership of the party as he could taste victory in the coming election.
The Pointer spoke with Brown in the days leading up to the launch of his book. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THE POINTER: It seems like you haven’t stopped for breath since the successful election campaign. Tell us a little about the work that went into writing this book and where you found time during the campaign.
BROWN: After everything went down earlier this year, I had a number of publishing companies approach me, asking if I wanted to tell my side of the story. Initially, when I was attacked with false allegations I wasn’t talking to any of the media. I was upset, hurt, that there could be such a smear job, such a takedown, and I wasn’t talking to the media. Over time I realized that it was important to stand up for yourself, to fight back, to point out the inaccuracies, to point out the lies, and in that process companies were approaching me to write a book. At my wife’s urging and my sisters’ urging, I decided to take the offer and write a book.
I had the assistance of editors, but we worked on that starting in April, and I would say for the most part it was completed by the summer. It was really in the final touches over the fall.
THE POINTER: A lot of people view political memoirs as kind of stodgy and very formal. But this is different. Tell us what it was like to actually put your story down on paper.
BROWN: Well, you know, I’ve seen memoirs that are very scripted, and frankly, they’re not real. What I wanted this to be was very honest, and I’m very direct and blunt and emotional in terms of what happened. And I hope that readers will enjoy it and think that it’s a very honest assessment of politics in Ontario and some of the realities of the course that Ontario has taken.
THE POINTER: What is the goal of putting this book out there for people?
BROWN: For one, I wanted people to have my perspective. Obviously, this was an event — this takedown that you saw — was an event that dominated newspaper headlines for the beginning of this year in a very prolific manner, and I felt that with the benefit of time … I thought it would be cathartic, almost, to be able to tell my side of the story in a manner that wasn’t stripped, in a manner that was precise, in a manner that was telling the whole story.
THE POINTER: Now that it’s done, did you get that catharsis?
BROWN: Yeah, I really enjoyed the process of putting it all down on paper.
THE POINTER: You obviously didn’t have time to add your election victory, but what do you hope the book says to your constituents now, to the residents of Brampton?
BROWN: A few things. It’s a broader message to Ontario that there is a role for moderate Conservatives. At the beginning of the book, I dedicate it to Bill Davis. He was the role model that I tried to really take inspiration from when I was in provincial politics. I thought he was the symbol of moderate conservatism, of being collegial, of being decent, of working with everyone, no monopoly on a good idea. The way that I saw he created the Ministry of the Environment. I talk about the correlation [between] his attachment to the environment and my own work. In being the only Conservative leader in the country at the time who supported climate change as [a] man-made [problem] and needing to do our part with it.
I talk about being inclusive; I talk about taking the party in a very different direction by choosing to march with an official delegation in the Toronto Pride Parade, the Ottawa Pride Parade; about how I had to adapt and evolve the party on issues that the party was conflicted on. Issues like sex education — I believed combatting homophobia was the right thing to do. I talk about the debates we had on Islamophobia, where it really made me an enemy within my own party.
It didn’t bother me that I was alienating members of the Conservative movement, because I thought I was doing what was right. But I was cognizant that with all these positions I was taking — I may have been more popular than a Conservative leader had ever been in public opinion polls — … but I was probably more unpopular within my own party.
I had taken the party to the centre in a fashion that I think many people were uncomfortable with, and quite frankly, [that] was part of my undoing in provincial politics, because I had alienated the powerful elements within the Conservative movement.
THE POINTER: So bundling that all together in the book and delivering that to Brampton residents — what can they take from that, and how might that impact your role as mayor now?
BROWN: So the decision to write the book was made well before I’d ever contemplated running for mayor of Brampton. When I made this decision in April, I wasn’t even planning to go back into politics. Running for mayor wasn’t on my radar. Having said that, for Brampton residents, I think it gives them an insight into who I am. It gives them a window into how I approach issues, how I approach challenges, and I talk about my own journey in life and in public service.
"Listen, it was cathartic to give a very honest assessment of what I went through. Having said that, I do think CTV is accountable … and that I hope the responsibility that CTV will one day have to take will be an example that you can’t rush out a story before checking the facts, and you can’t have that type of journalism."
Patrick Brown, newly elected mayor of Brampton
THE POINTER: You have some very critical words for people in the book, in particular those who were pretty close to you ahead of the story breaking. Are you concerned that burning those bridges or being that candid may come back to negatively impact you in the future?
BROWN: No, in the sense that for those who were deceitful and helped orchestrate my removal as leader, they’ve been doing everything they can to make sure that I didn’t return to politics. Frankly, some of those actors were very involved in trying to prevent me from being successful in Brampton. The reality is, the public sees through that. And we saw from those gains in the municipal campaign that the public sees through that. I highlight that I’ve got lots of good friends in the Conservative party still. I just disagree vehemently with aspects of the Conservative movement.
THE POINTER: The book pulls back the curtain, in a way.
BROWN: On how a party works.
THE POINTER: Yeah, and that’s something new and something I’m sure you wanted to highlight. Are you trying to position that as being one of the pillars of your career now, as being more open in terms of your policies and who you are?
BROWN: I’ve left partisan politics behind. I’ve said that my party is the people of Brampton. And having exited part of politics, I can speak honestly of some of the [shortcomings]. In the spring, I wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star about how I believed political parties that are run by volunteers are not equipped to run nomination campaigns and that nominations should be run by Elections Ontario, just like you would see in other countries, like in the U.S., where electoral agencies run their primary process. I believe that would be a step in the right direction. Having lived it and breathed it, and having seen the challenges, I have a greater insight into that than I think most would, which is why I felt comfortable making that recommendation in the spring.
Within a political party, there can be a larger appetite for extreme views. And I think it’s one of the weaknesses in our political system that you can have special-interest groups that can play such a large role within a political party.
THE POINTER: Is that concerning?
BROWN: Absolutely, and frankly, these extreme groups are one of the things I struggled with when I was leader of the Opposition — trying to keep them at bay, whether it’s an element on the religious right, [or] a strong element that doesn’t believe in climate change. And, you know, in larger numbers those groups can have sway.
THE POINTER: Is that a piece of a bigger issue: that people have lost connections with politics and the people that they’re electing?
BROWN: It is a good reminder of the importance of being involved, the importance of being engaged. If larger numbers are engaged in the political process, you can’t have special interest groups getting a larger say, but when there’s apathy, I think that’s when things go [awry].
THE POINTER: We have to ask about the allegations against you and the fact they came out right in the middle of the #MeToo movement. There are always two sides when we look at these sorts of stories, and there needs to be fair treatment on both sides, of a person who’s been accused and the person who has come forward. In your view, where you’ve denied that these events ever took place and stated they’re outright falsehoods, but you are someone in a position of power, what is the proper way to handle these situations?
BROWN: So, I think this is the only #MeToo case in Canada that’s resulted in a significant lawsuit. I think in general I support the #MeToo movement; I support the spirit of the #MeToo movement. I’m an older brother to two younger sisters. I was very protective of them growing up. Frankly, I adore and love my wife, and if she was ever mistreated I would be beyond upset and hurt, and so, I come from a family of strong, intelligent women.
I believe in women’s rights. I support the #MeToo movement, but false allegations diminish that movement. False allegations hurt that, and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve continued with my lawsuit against CTV. That $8 million lawsuit is proceeding well. We’re very optimistic about the case, and we show in the case that with very little due-diligence, with very little fact-check, CTV could have realized that the stories were false.
As you know, the National Post and Global National, in the week that followed, highlighted some of the huge holes in the story, [such as] the person who supposedly drove the individual to my house said it never happened. The fact that the house [where the incident allegedly occurred] wasn’t even purchased at the time. There were quick, quick, verifications that CTV could have done that would have shown that the story didn’t add up, and unfortunately they didn’t. They were in a rush to produce a story. It was part of the eye of the storm of the #MeToo movement and they wanted to be part of it, so they rushed out a false story.
The reality is that it had real consequences. Just look at the results. Could you imagine the difference between a Bill Davis–style government — and I would have done my best to replicate Bill Davis’s style of Conservatism — to what we see today? Frankly, it’s been a distortion of Ontario’s democratic course. So, there’s been a real consequence.
[Editor’s Note: [In a statement of defence filed in July, CTV denied Brown’s allegations of negligence and “explicitly den[ied] that the words complained of were falsely and maliciously broadcast or published.” It outlined how it received the tips between July and November 2017 that led to the story and called the network’s decision to publish a report “fair comment” and in the “public interest,” given that the character of a potential premier is of importance to citizens.]
THE POINTER: Let’s turn to something that isn’t included in the book, your winning the Brampton mayoralty. The book details this work ethic that you have that seems pretty much nonstop, moving from the local level to the federal level to the provincial level, and now once again back at the municipal level. But it’s clear from the book you’ve got very, very lofty goals in terms of what you want to do in the political ecosystem. Some of those goals can’t be accomplished at the municipal level. So, what can you commit to the people of Brampton? Is it one term as mayor? Two terms as mayor?
BROWN: You know, I get the question every day, and my only focus is on Brampton. My only focus is on doing a great job in Brampton, and frankly, you can’t even have any other conversation unless you do a good job at the task ahead. So the only thing that I’m interested in is turning things around in Brampton. I want to make this city the envy of Ontario, I want to make our city the envy of Canada, and I’m going to work my heart out until we see a Brampton that is booming with jobs and investment, that we get our fair share from the provincial and federal government. That is my only focus.
I feel at home. I feel great. I’m excited for Dec. 1, when I officially take on the responsibility as mayor of Brampton. Genevieve and myself are loving our life in Brampton and the challenge of turning a great city around.
THE POINTER: There will be setbacks. But having read the book, it seems that whenever you have a setback it motivates you to work harder. Should the people of Brampton be encouraged by that?
BROWN: I’ve always been a hard worker, and the people of Brampton can definitely count on the fact that there will be no stone left unturned and every opportunity will be pursued for our city.
My grandfather was always an example for me. My grandfather lived until he was 94 and he had a small business, a car lot. He would go in every single day, Monday to Saturday. Sunday he spent with the family, but Monday to Saturday, until he was 94. Even when he near broke both his hips in his early 90s, he’d still go in to the car lot every day on a walker.
He’d always say to me, there’s no shortcuts in life, you work hard and you create your own opportunities. So, my philosophy in life has always been you work hard.
What I want to show the people of Brampton is that we’re going to work harder than we’ve ever worked before. If we’re used to making 10 economic development proposals, well, I’m going to be making 400. If we’re used to pestering three federal ministers for funding, well, I’m going to be pressing 30. I’m going to be pursuing our challenges and our opportunities with a work ethic we haven’t seen before.
THE POINTER: Throughout the campaign you referenced Hazel McCallion many times, and her way of doing things. This ties into the previous question about whether you have aspirations at other levels of government, but do you see yourself on the other side of that coin, being a politician who is going to thrive at the municipal level?
BROWN: Honestly, I just want to do a great job in Brampton. I want to make the people proud who trusted me with their vote. I want them to see success in their city. I want them to see their city flourish, and I’m committed to that task as long as it takes.
I speak with Hazel regularly. She’s become a friend … One piece of advice that she gave me last week on the phone: She said: “Stop thinking small in Brampton.”
She said, stop thinking small, stop thinking about the job opportunities local, the investment opportunities local, start reaching beyond that traditional area, and I think there are lessons we can learn in economic development from Hazel.
THE POINTER: We talked about the connection between people and their elected officials and people losing that connection to politics. Nowhere is that clearer than at the municipal level, where many people might not understand how connected their lives are to the municipal level of politics. Through this process and running this mayoral campaign, are you learning anything that you didn’t know before about municipal politics and maybe the importance of connecting with people?
BROWN: You know what, it’s something that I really need to put my mind to. Voter turnout is so low municipally across Canada. It’s pretty consistent, the numbers, across Canada. And so we need to create opportunities for a greater connectivity with the residents.
I want to look at ideas for that, and I’m going to be exploring new ways. Whether it’s tele town halls, Facebook Live, using new digital platforms like The Pointer or Brampton Focus, I want to find new ways to reach out to residents.
It’s harder municipally. You know, the MPs have a big communications budget with newsletters they can send out and keep in touch.
I’m going to look at ways to make sure that we can stay connected, and frankly, you can have a tele town hall that you get 10,000 people on. With growing email lists and new forms of technology, we should find ways that we can make up that connectivity at the municipal level.
THE POINTER: What was it about Brampton? There were other things in play, but why was Brampton such a good fit for you for mayor?
BROWN: First of all, the challenge excited me, of turning Brampton around. I thought it was a city that was really hurting, a city that really needed better governance.
And, yeah, there was an effort to get me to run elsewhere. There were some Mississauga councillors trying to convince me to run in Mississauga, where my wife is from, but my roots were in Brampton. It’s where I practiced law, it’s where I had an apartment at the time.
Then there was an effort to get me to run in Barrie. There was even a poll done that said I would have won in a slam-dunk.
Frankly, things are going well in Barrie. They have a decent economy right now, they’ve got the lake cleaned up, they’ve got their university expansion. Those are all projects I worked on, and I feel that Barrie is in a very good position.
Genevieve and I were really enjoying our life down in Peel Region and, you know, I talked during the campaign that I’ve got this strong emotional tie to Brampton. It’s where Genevieve’s mother was a school teacher for years, it’s where my dad had practised law for decades, it’s where I started my professional career as a lawyer and, frankly, I’ve got some very close relationships within the cultural communities that make up the mosaic that is Brampton. Some of my closest friends and people that have been at the heart of my campaigns, they were all rooted in Brampton as well, so it just seemed like a very natural fit.
THE POINTER: Does this book mark a turning point for you?
BROWN: Yeah, I think this book represents the turning of a page from provincial politics, that final chapter in provincial politics, and I’m really excited just to focus on my municipal responsibilities.
THE POINTER: With the lawsuit, you’re seeking full vindication for yourself, but does this book accomplish that for you in any way?
BROWN: Listen, it was cathartic to give a very honest assessment of what I went through. Having said that, I do think CTV is accountable … and that I hope the responsibility that CTV will one day have to take will be an example that you can’t rush out a story before checking the facts, and you can’t have that type of journalism. And let me highlight that there are many great journalists that I have worked with in my time in politics, and I think there are great people within the industry.
THE POINTER: We appreciate you taking so much time.
BROWN: My pleasure.
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