We Need to Think About This …
Ever since Patrick Brown was summarily bounced from the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, I have ducked the issue. I am not sure why. Perhaps I was afraid of the inevitable pushback. For sure, I did not want to appear unsympathetic to victims of sexual abuse. In the end however, I feel compelled to write about it.
It is no secret that Brown is not one of my favorite politicians. I never thought he was a strong leader and I have said on more than one occasion that I felt he lacked the charisma or “royal jelly” to be effective as Premier of Ontario. It was also not always clear what he stood for. I feared that Kathleen Wynne, in spite of her terrible legacy of incompetence, would once again win the day if Patrick Brown was her main competition. You will be unsurprised therefore, when I say that I am not sorry that Patrick Brown is no longer Leader of the Ontario P.C.’s. I believe the Conservatives will be better off with a new leader and a vigorous leadership campaign prior to the provincial election in June.
However, the manner in which Patrick Brown was toppled from the leadership of his Party has left a very bad taste in my mouth. The fact that the two incidents, both of which go back a number of years, were reported less than four months before a Provincial election, cannot have been a coincidence. Somebody planned this. I confess, that at first blush I suspected this was a dirty Liberal plot but now I am not so sure.
Now I wonder if it was not the Tories themselves, or a group of them, who torched Brown? It all seemed to go too smoothly. First the allegations by anonymous sources and then within hours, pressure on Brown from Caucus to resign. Before the night was out, there was Vic Videli declaring he wanted the Leadership, almost before Brown had even left the building. Within a very few days, there was an unprecedented purge of Party and legislative staff, admittedly some of it deserved. To me, it had the markings of a well orchestrated coup.
Politics is a blood sport. Nobody gets that more than I do. Surely however, there are limits and I believe the line was crossed with Patrick Brown. The consequences to him, of his downfall are limitless. He not only lost the Leadership of his Party, his political career is toast. In many ways he is a ruined man and will likely have great trouble re-establishing his law career. He has been tried and convicted and severely punished. It is nothing short of vigilante politics. Of course, the allegations against Brown, which stem from the time he was a member of Parliament in Ottawa, must be taken seriously. But they have not been authenticated and the timing of their revelation is deeply suspicious.
Janet Ecker is a former Ontario Finance Minister and a highly regarded political commentator. Shortly after the fall of Patrick Brown she was a guest on TVO’s ‘Agenda’ and she was asked what she thought of the allegations against him. She did not condone them, but she said something like this. She said there is a wide spectrum of events that constitute sexual impropriety. At one end of the spectrum are the despicable antics of people like the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world whose behaviour is disgusting and likely indictable. Weinstein’s systemic abuse of women is well documented and this type of behaviour should have been wiped out long ago. No question about that and more power to the women who are speaking out.
On the other end of the spectrum however, is behaviour that Ecker suggests, amounts to what could be described as a really bad date. The problem she went on to say, was that in this day and age, all of these matters are painted with the same brush, regardless of the degree of severity and they are all lumped into the same basket, with equal condemnation and punishment to all. That, in my view, and I believe from their columns, in the view of others like Christie Blatchford of the National Post and Rosie Dimanno, of the Toronto Star, is what happened to Patrick Brown.
Why is this important? For two reasons really. First, by lumping all indiscretions in the same basket it could diminish the severity of the really serious cases of sexual assault that should not be ignored. Secondly, it irrevocably ruins the lives and reputations of people whose actions may not deserve that consequence.
An example of that latter point, is an accusation levelled at veteran Commentator, Steve Paikin, who ruefully acknowledged last week, “Okay, now it’s my turn”. He has been accused by a former Toronto Mayoral candidate with beginning a luncheon conversation with her by asking her if she would sleep with him. He, like Patrick Brown, has vehemently denied the accusation. Now I don’t know Patrick Brown, but I have known Steve Paikin for more than 20 years. First of all, he is not stupid. He would know the consequences of saying that. If anything, in my view, Paikin is a bit of a prude, who would never make a rude comment or an indecent proposal. Nevertheless, he has been accused, and although TVO has made the courageous decision to keep him on the air during an investigation, he is tainted by this and he knows that one way or another he will pay a price for it. As he said, it was his turn.
The inevitable question is whose turn will it be next? Could it be Justin Trudeau? Might it be Doug Ford? What if it’s John Tory? And when it happens, to whomever it happens, what will be our response? Will we apply the same standards to everyone or just to the people we dislike or with whom we disagree? What standards will we apply to decide if an accusation is reliable? Will we demand authenticity from the accusers, or will we just throw the baby out with the bath water?
We need to think seriously about that.
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