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The Ontario PCs Are Shaping Up To Be A One-Man Show

02/02/2016 11:10 EST | Updated 02/02/2017 05:12 EST
Cole Burston via Getty Images
Toronto, Canada - June 17 - Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown addresses a full crowd during the Annual Leaders Dinner at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. (Cole Burston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

I attended a media roundtable on black Canadians with Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown at Queen's Park.

Brown is a hardworking and ambitious leader, yet he is also one of the reasons why I abandoned my membership of his party when he was elected. I admired and wanted Christine Elliott to win. Brown is a self-described "pragmatic Conservative" who wants to advocate for ideas not based on partisan nature, but because, according to him, "it makes sense for Ontario."

As an MP in Ottawa, he supported a private member's bill that attempted to restrict a women's right to choose. A decade ago, as a newly elected MP, he voted against same-sex marriage. In the decade he has been an MP in Ottawa, he has not moved past his backbench status, freeing him to build a coalition for an eventual leadership run.

Before he became an MP, defeating the promising career of Liberal Cabinet Minister Aileen Carroll in the process, he was known for criticizing, his then-leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, Joe Clark, openly and rudely.

Since taking the reign of the party that is "increasingly marginalized" as described by the Toronto Star's Martin Regg Cohn, Brown has reached out to uncharted territory to make himself and his party relevant and mainstream.

"How did this obscure backbench MP with little experience outside of politics become leader and a potential premier of Ontario? Hard work, blind ambition and by perfecting the art of retail politics."

Like Jean Chrétien, who successfully hid Tom Wappel from view, Brown has even managed to mute the controversial voices of MPP's such as Monte McNaughton and Randy Hillier, who often troubled the party and its former leader Tim Hudak in the past. He seems to have learned from the School of Jason Kenney in reaching out and making an appearance at cultural community events regularly.

The meeting, sandwiched back-to-back along with that of the South Korean and Tamil communities, gave him the opportunity to open up on his own biography, his time in Ottawa and how he wants to play politics differently. He admitted racism existed in society, that carding was still an issue, reflected on the Caribbean Festival (particularly its name-change controversy) and used the words of Bono and Bob Marley to charm his audience.

A quick glance at the walls of the meeting space and one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the many pictures he has of himself. There is him in India with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, him running in the New York Marathon, him at a cultural event, him with former MP Tim Uppal.

One cannot help but wonder whatever happened to paying tribute to the party's most successful leaders -- Mike Harris, Leslie Frost, Bill Davis, John Robarts. Then there's the yearbook-like picture of his caucus members prominently placed in the middle of the room, with no traces of diversity, offering us a reminder of why his party continues to be irrelevant.

He sounds immature when he refuses to answer a question on the legacy of Mike Harris -- "I was in grade school when he was premier."

The career politician looked nervous when talking policy, yet, like the child-like character of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, he was full of energy and excitement when discussing himself. He is known to overly self-promote himself rather than the cause or the team.

So, how did this obscure backbench MP with little experience outside of politics become leader and a potential premier of Ontario?

It came via hard work, blind ambition and by perfecting the art of retail politics. In the leadership contest he was not supposed to win, he beat the much-admired and respected Christine Elliott -- winning 83 ridings out of a possible 107. That is 62 per cent compared to her 38 per cent -- pushing her out of electoral politics.

He is set to host a Black History Month reception at Queen's Park this month, going after a loyal Liberal population that no longer associates the party with Lincoln Alexander.

Among the invited and confirmed guests are a noted right-wing Liberal Toronto city councillor, Michael Thompson; one-time celebrity boxer, Spider Jones; and the leadership of the Ontario Black History Society and the Black Business & Professional Association.

No one can predict the future of the once-proud political party, but what is obvious is that it is shaping up to be a one-man political show, built only on Brown's charm and personality.

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