Brampton Mayor-elect Patrick Brown’s new memoir breaks the mould of stodgy, predictable political biographies that employ pedestrian language to bore readers into submission.
Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown
Photos by Mansoor Tanweer and Joel Wittnebel

Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown


For 42 years, the Big Blue Machine ruled Ontario — almost by fiat. The Progressive Conservative party gave the electorate what it wanted: stolid leadership. There was a quiet continuum of post-war premiers: George Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts, and Brampton’s very own, Bill Davis (1971 to 1985).

The party represented those living in small towns and rural areas, and cities emboldened by a slowly rising tide of manufacturing that began to modernize Ontario and drove its ascent. The smooth-talking Robarts joked that he was not premier of the province, but chairman of the board. But its politics represented the dead ball era of government in Ontario, with a predictable, plodding feel that had set in at Queen’s Park. Safe and steady was the course.

After Davis’s tenure, the party lost bigly (a word now firmly entrenched in our political lexicon) to the Liberals, led by David Peterson. It slipped into a deeper funk with the once faithful when (shock — horror — gasp) the NDP under “pinko socialist” Bob Rae (their words), won the 1990 election with an overwhelming majority.

His disastrous understanding of basic economic principles and how to grow an economy built by entrepreneurs lit a fire under the PC machinery.

The party was revived under neo-cons Mike Harris and Ernie Eves (the Common Sense revolutionaries) from 1995 to 2002, but it had changed considerably after a scorched-earth social policy removed the P from PC. It ended when the Liberals seized power under Dalton McGuinty and then Kathleen Wynne. They ran the table for the next 15 years, helped by the incompetence of Tory leaders like Tim Hudak, who, in the 2014 election, turned victory into defeat by promising to axe 100,000 civil-servant jobs. This duh moment ensured the Grits (now hopscotching from scandal to scandal, emboldened — and more entitled — every time they didn’t have to pay for their latest misdeeds) would get yet another extension of power. That ended in June of this year with the election of Doug Ford and the return of majority Tory rule.

In the long interregnum between Davis and Ford, Ontario changed “bigly”.

Ontario’s demographics moved from WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) to diverse. This new cache of voters was browner, and mostly first-generation immigrants. As with other waves of newcomers, any assumption of a default loyalty to the Liberals — the party of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the father of modern immigration policy, as the monopoly holder of votes by everyone who was naturalized — belies a much more conservative attitude, both socially and fiscally, among many. Brampton represented the composite drawing of this new-look reality: 74 percent visible minorities and, according to the latest census, one of the fastest growing cities in Canada.

These dramatic changes came into sharp focus in the 2015 PC leadership, race when a long-shot, no-name backbencher from the federal Conservative government named Patrick Brown won, and won handily.

Brown was young (36), smart (lawyer), experienced (former Barrie councillor, three-term Conservative party MP), as comfortable in a Mosque, Mandir or Gurdwara as he is in a Church and a high-energy force of nature, driven by his two favourite drinks: sweet Diet Coke and caffeine-laced Red Bull.

 

His campaign seemed to embrace the Moneyball mantra of “winning an unfair game.” Moneyball, a popular book written by Michael Lewis (and later made into a movie), was published in 2003. It’s about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager, Billy Beane, who introduced a new orthodoxy to an old game. It took the accepted concept of how to build a championship baseball team (power hitters and power arms) and turned it on its ear.

Brown did the same thing with the PC party.

This is the setting of a dramatic new memoir called Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown, just released. The book has caused a firestorm of reaction from the inner sanctum of power at Queen’s Park, with a lot of the ugly talk aimed at the author. Why is the newly elected mayor of Brampton being viewed as a quisling by his once beloved party?

He was never an insider. He expanded the tent to welcome the very people that some already inside tried to keep out, as he moved the party to middle-ground where many members simply did not want to go.

The other view is that this is a blunt, honest assessment, as well as a cautionary tale about political life in the era of the #MeToo movement. It’s also a warning to voters in Ontario that the party now in power is perhaps as flawed as the one that preceded it. Whatever your political stripe, the book is a rollicking read, and highly recommended.  

During Brown’s campaign for leader, he plumbed the depths of Ontario’s diversity and leaned on the personal relationships built up over his years as an invisible backbencher in the Stephen Harper government. While others bought into the hot right-wing ideology spewed by Harper, Brown remained lukewarm. He was too busy, anyway, in his role as party chair of the Greater Toronto Area caucus and the Canada-India Parliamentary Association. This was his entry point into building up relationships with a new wave of Canadians, including those from the Tamil and other South Asian communities. When he decided to leap into the leadership race of the PC party, he would draw from this deep and newfound voter pool that had been virtually ignored by his opponents, including the favourite and leader-in-waiting, Christine Elliott. While critics said Brown’s game plan was both cynical and opportunistic, he counters that it was organic and holistic. He thought new Canadians were entrepreneurial and natural-born conservatives, hard-working, spiritual and fiercely determined. Most had never lived under western-style welfare states. They were like Protestants — only they weren’t. But unlike others who couldn’t see past that, his growing list of partnerships suggested Brown didn’t care. He signed them up, en masse, as PC members. At the convention, Elliott was hit by a blue wave, with a brown stripe.

Because of his brazen takeover of the party, he made enemies. Lots of them.

Like Billy Beane, he was celebrated by the open-minded and reviled by others, mostly the entrenched old-boys network. When you upset the time-worn ways of doing politics or baseball, you put a target on your head. Beane and Brown were outliers, the types most hated by reactionaries.

Brown’s win came out of left field, but could he follow it up in the June Ontario election?

Some in the party said no, and viewed him as a usurper anyway — grabbing the leadership by questionable means. Like Macbeth, they asked: had he “played most foully for it?”

Brown’s rise in 2015 and his subsequent resignation in a late-night tweet last January, contained all the elements of a Shakespearian tragedy: tales of sex, power, heroes, villains, a night of long knives, and a protagonist, the anti-hero who elicited both anger and pathos.

Brown’s fall from grace was swift and dirty, and his book gives a fascinating, blow-by-blow description. Unfortunately for Brampton readers, it’s missing one more chapter — Brown’s ultimate redemption. His recent win over Linda Jeffrey to claim the mayor’s chair came too late for Brown’s publishers, Optimum Publishing International. They had a tight deadline but must be thrilled that his mayoralty win will only juice up book sales.

Takedown is currently the number one bestseller on Amazon.ca’s list of political biographies.

Brown has written an “inside baseball” look at politics. It shines the high beams on the current party in power at Queen’s Park, one Brown was supposed to lead to victory. Instead, his exit meant his big tent has partially collapsed.

The sexual-misconduct allegations that felled him and led to his resignation (involving two women, one a former staffer when he was an MP in Barrie) were, he writes, an outright lie. In this book, he goes into great depth to expose the minutiae of the takedown.

The book exposes some naked truths about the game of power and shifts the blame for his fall to a coterie of neo-con men and women who had it in for him from the get-go.

Near the book’s end, Brown lays outs his theories about who wanted him to fall and why:

• The women who brought the allegations, he claims, were either paid or coaxed. In the case of [Jane] Doe, he suggests that perhaps her WTF moment around Donald Trump and her newfound interest in “using feminism as a political tool” might have gotten the better of her. It just might be a case where taking up the #MeToo cause became more important for Doe than the facts, Brown suggests. Perhaps, he muses, “she was fulfilling some higher sense of duty, and I was simply a convenient instrument.” It’s obviously a one-sided hypothetical wrought with problems for those who don’t believe Brown, at all. Doug Ford, in his public evisceration of Brown on Thursday on the floor of the legislature, said the fallen PC leader has the credibility of a “rock”.

• Nonetheless, his takedown, Brown suggests, started with a very cynical and corrupt Liberal Party which, under Wynne, was desperate to stay in power. “I think they launched the ‘Find Shit on Brown Campaign’ early on.”

• He thinks his team, hearing rumours, began hedging their bets, then got ready to jump ship and throw him overboard, “so that they could start anew with other candidates. The idea is that they would assist me just as long as things were going well, but if the kitchen got too hot, they would gut me like a fish.”

• Still, he says, the biggest blame for his fall goes to CTV News, which “hung me in the court of public opinion without giving me the proper chance to defend anything, and it did so with a very poorly researched story.” This, he adds, “subverted the democratic process and changed the political landscape. That is not the role of the media.”

If this all sounds like bitter offerings, it is — to a point. But readers have to remind themselves how they might react if their personal and political lives were thrown into the dumpster in just one night.

Brown alleges the fix was in all along, and his chief of staff was conducting “black ops” on him — a claim, he writes, that was later confirmed by other staffers.

 

The other view is that this is a blunt, honest assessment, as well as a cautionary tale about political life in the era of the #MeToo movement. It’s also a warning to voters in Ontario that the party now in power is perhaps as flawed as the one that preceded it. Whatever your political stripe, the book is a rollicking read, and highly recommended.  


 

Chapter 6 goes into detail about how he was pole-axed by word that CTV News was planning to bring out its story on sexual improprieties, with Brown the target. It’s the best section in the 312-page book, giving the reader sordid detail about why he believes certain individuals intended to take him down.

Brown begins where all good Shakespearian plays start: right in the middle of the action.

He is on a tennis court playing one of his favourite sports when an aide breaks up the game with looming bad news: CTV has some dirt on him, and is going to announce it to the world on the 10 p.m. newscast. Brown is gobsmacked. His heart pounds unevenly. Blood thuds in his ears. What could CTV News possibly have about him that would make it the lead item on its national news broadcast? The timing couldn’t be worse: the #MeToo movement was at its absolute peak. Political, media and corporate icons were falling like tenpins. Even the hint of sexual impropriety sounded the death knell for politicians. Brown is mystified about what he might have done. His mind races backwards, trying to anchor on a possible moment when he might have given in to some stupid urge. There was nothing, he claims. His key advisers told him to issue a statement before the broadcast and brace for the follow-up. Their names are Alykhan Velshi, Dan Robertson, Andrew Boddington and Nick Bergamini — just some of the villains of his narrative. These “rats” (Brown’s descriptor) pen him a weak, vanilla response, and he’s taken to Queen’s Park to hold a hastily called news conference. It’s a dizzying blur, and Brown feels off-balance. He’s ice white with worry.

He faces the media alone, his advisers, having abandoned him, are gathered in the Queen’s Park basement to tweet out their resignations to the world. They unassociate themselves, in a viral split-second, before his disease can spread. They want no part of him, as he prepares to read the statement they have just concocted. Brown calls them “my team of backstabbers.”

He delivers their words in a bizarre 81-second news conference, held minutes before CTV was about to eviscerate him for all of Canada to see.  

When he finally escapes the press hordes and gets back to his Toronto apartment, the broadcast has done the damage to him and his family. You could include the entire PC caucus here, too.

Many of them have already prepared their thank-you speeches for the June 7 vote. This is their time to put the boots to the corrupt Grits. But Brown has failed them, like other leaders have failed them before. Or, is this the opportunity they helped hasten?

Brown is swept up by and torn apart in the moment. He feels like a ship caught in a hurricane. Luckily, his two younger sisters and Becky Thompson, another aide, are there with him, along with other friends. But the rest of the world is piling on — especially his caucus, which is holding a late-night conference call and asking themselves what is to be done. Brown is excluded from the call, but he and Thompson have the conference call code. They listen in. The entire conversation is recorded in the book. It isn’t good. It gets downright ugly. The caucus consensus seems to be calling for his head. Brown helps put it on a platter; or, more correctly, Thompson does. She has his cellphone, and while he is distracted in a hurricane of whirling issues, she taps out a draft of his resignation on Twitter —  then sends it out WITHOUT his permission.

This was the coup de grace, Brown writes. When he found out what she had done, it was too late. He was done. His entire political career flashed before him, a career best summed up in the following passage from the book:

“In 2004, I was called to the bar, and in spring 2005, I set up a general practice in Brampton, where I did a bit of everything, including some family, criminal and real estate law. I continued to serve my ward as a city councillor [in Barrie]. I always knew I wanted a job that I loved — something that excited me and gave me a sense of meaning and purpose. Something that would put me in contact with many people. And frankly, being a lawyer and making lots of money just wasn’t it. Public service was. It was my calling, my purpose and my vocation. And, I intended to pursue a life in public service with full force. From the St. Mike’s PC Club, to youth president, to Barrie city council, the pond just kept getting bigger.”

The biggest pond would be premier of the province, a position his hero (Bill Davis) once occupied.  Now the chance to emulate him was gone.

The scene of Brown’s fiery fall recalls the great Frank Capra movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. A young politician, played by Jimmy Stewart, suddenly realizes he’s been duped. Then he rises in the Senate and makes a speech that has reverberated down through the ages: “You think I'm licked. You all think I’m licked. Well, I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.”

Brown looked like he was licked. He was a political pariah.

Maybe that’s the most telling thing about his book — the title itself: Takedown. This is one book you can judge by its cover. In this case, the title has a double meaning. As the book opens, it’s all about Brown being the takedown-ee. But as later chapters reveal, he is the takedown-er.

No one is spared his wrath: his turncoat staff, members of his caucus, the hated Madam X (Lisa MacLeod), and all the Machiavellian figures he thinks conspired to get him. Brown also has some choice words for two famous Liberals: Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who both jumped on him shortly after the CTV broadcast. They sent out righteous tweets thanking the women for their bravery in coming forward to expose what had happened. But it’s CTV that really raises his ire, and he hopes the network will pay for doing the dirty on him. The television report accused him of impropriety, then twisted the knife by saying one of the victims was underage (a claim the network later walked back).  

There are also heroes here: his now-wife, Genevieve Gualtieri; his younger sisters (Stephanie called the charges against him a “political hit job”); Davis, his political mentor; and the rest of his family and friends who supported him throughout his ordeal.

If you’re one of those who love a political book that rolls around in the muck, this is for you. From page one, the clear-throated, often profane voice of Brown is heard, and his outrage is based on a simple, but profound premise: he is a good man, falsely accused.

Moneyball exposed the conservative men who ran baseball (the old-boys network) as knuckle-dragging throwbacks. Brown maintains he was entrusted with taking on the old political hierarchy and remaking the party — clearly confused about how progressive it is willing to be — into a more modern and inclusive one. But that, he writes, only opened him up to personal and political destruction.

The book, like most memoirs, travels back in time to explain how he became a Conservative, which took him in a perfectly linear line to his job as head of the PC party in Ontario. He’s a Zelig-like character who seems to end up rubbing shoulders with powerful people like Brian Mulroney and Bill Davis and Jean Charest along the way.

His surprising friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cultivated prior to his rule over the world’s largest democracy, where the budding Canadian politician made significant strategic ties, is an interesting aside, but for readers, the book makes clear that for Brown, politics is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Except for a loss in one federal election, he was the chosen one who scored win after win, mostly by big pluralities. His reach, it seems, never exceeded his grasp. Whether it was being a Barrie council member while attending law school in Windsor, or surprising everyone by winning his first federal seat, it was all done by sheer hard work. He was a man on the make.

Brown writes that he was a dutiful son and grandson who always put family first, and in the end, it was family that saved him from falling into total despair as his entire world was collapsing around him.

Brown says he enjoys surprising his detractors, and when he won the party leadership, the media shrugged him off as another So/Con (social conservative) lackey. But he embraced a carbon tax (a blow to the business community), was cool with the new sex-education curriculum brought forward by the Wynne government (fueling hate from the religious right), and marched in the Pride Parade, carrying the PC colours. It was all too much for the neo-con fogies who had been lying in the weeds and hoping he would be the second coming of Mike Harris, not Bill “Red Tory” Davis.

They appear to have their man in Doug Ford. In a toe-to-toe argument with NDP leader Andrea Horwath in the provincial legislature this week, he was quick to mock Brown’s book: “Serious allegations from Patrick Brown? You gotta be kidding. That is absolutely disgusting, and I'll tell you what Patrick Brown has done, he has brought a super strong team together even stronger. We are even more united than we’ve ever been.”

Brown’s leadership win was written in the stars. But black clouds were gathering on the horizon. One dark night in January, he became Lear in the storm.

After a months-long recovery period, he started to eye political opportunities again. He also got the idea to write the book — an honest political assessment, not like the vanilla stuff scooped into cardboard put in front of him by his staff for his press conference at Queen’s Park on the night of his takedown.

This book promises to live long after the news cycle has played out.

Brown might be the first politician in North America to write a political thriller, naming all names, just days before he takes office after winning an election.

The critics will never let up on Brown. When he was a last-minute entrant into the race for Brampton mayor, many called him an opportunist, a carpetbagger, and a political whore. He was so desperate for power he would run anywhere — even Brampton. Brown kept his cool during the campaign, even when his main opponent, incumbent Linda Jeffrey, called him out in a debate at the Rose Theatre about the sexual-misconduct allegations, demanding answers as she sharpened her prosecution, with CTV’s evidence fresh in her mind (This is the same person, who as mayor, when asked about a $28.5 million lawsuit facing the city over a $500 million development deal, repeatedly said she would not comment on evidence or the case in general, because it was up to the court to decide on an outcome.)

Brown says writing this book was cathartic. So was living through the nightmare. Having your personal and professional life destroyed in a cross-Canada newscast is something few of us will ever experience. He says his fall and rise has made him a new man — and a better politician. He didn’t respond to Jeffrey’s baiting that night, but instead, stood at centre stage and talked about his plans for making Brampton one of the best and most livable cities in Canada. He also knew his sizzling new book was at the printers. In it, he had already poured out enough invective to last a lifetime.

There were no more enemies to battle. No more need to defend himself.

A few weeks later, Brampton voters gave him what he needed most: a win. Thus began his personal and political redemption.

Some might say that Brown’s improbable win here is the stuff of another book.

The publisher could add it as a last chapter to Takedown for a future edition.

For now, Brown’s writing days are over.

He’s anxious to get back to doing what he does best: politicking.



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