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PC Leadership Campaign Deals To Determine Brown's Policies

 

By Susanna Kelley

Now that Patrick Brown has won a decisive victory in the Ontario PC leadership race, there is much speculation now about what that means in terms of both policy and politics for the party and the province going forward.

What many don't realize, however, is that it's not the "clean slate" that everyone is talking about.

Rather, both Mr. Brown's future policy positions and Ontario politics are intricately bound up in any deals that he has already made during the leadership race itself.

Because in the real world of retail politics, candidates make deals in order to secure support (in this case, to sell those crucial memberships.)

Such races always — always — involve political deals in return for support.

And many of those deals were made months ago when Mr. Brown was signing up the many members who jumped onboard as he travelled the province over the last year.

Knowing these deals, and whom he made them with, is key to understanding what policy positions Mr. Brown will be taking over the next while.

While few outside the race for PC leader knew it, it was clear to some seasoned political party pros as far back as last November that Patrick Brown was scaring the pants off the other leadership campaigns.

And with good reason.

He was everywhere, visiting all the ridings numerous times and talking up everyone he could. Even at that time he claimed to be winning the membership signup war in many ridings.

He even pulled surprise endorsements by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Canadian hockey hero Wayne Gretzky out of his bag of political tricks at one point.

Many didn't believe his claims, but some political pros weren't so doubtful.

One of the most revealing lessons I ever learned about political leadership campaigns was an insightful comment by Marc Lalonde, former Canadian finance minister, Principal Secretary to the late Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and one of his most trusted lieutenants.

Between elections, Mr. Lalonde once told me, parties are empty shells.  The riding associations are often moribund, and it isn't very difficult to take them over, and hence, the party apparatus itself.

The importance of riding associations was once critical to a leadership contestant - as their executives were made up of the most active party members and it was the ridings that elected delegates who were sent to leadership conventions. Those delegates elected the new leader.

That process is less important now that leadership campaigns have evolved to mostly one-member, one-vote contests rather than who can get the most number of delegates elected in each riding.

But still, what Patrick Brown has done - he has taken over a shell of a party - is very similar to what Pierre Trudeau and his supporters did with the Liberal party back in the day.

With the Ontario PC party membership reportedly as low as 10,000 at the start of the leadership campaign, the party was ripe for the picking.

Mr. Brown, the "Eveready Bunny" of politicians, plunged in and never, ever stopped campaigning, signing up members even in ridings that the PCs haven't held for years. 

And the fact he plunged into all those ridings numerous times was key. 

Location, Location, Location: you cannot win people's support, in retail politics, without being there, on the ground, where they live, and hence learning for yourself, unfiltered, what is important to them and then turning that knowledge into the promises many demand in return for their votes.

And Mr. Brown was there in spades - selling memberships and, what is certain, doing the deals in order to get those names on the dotted line.

Mr. Brown was superbly organized, and even two weeks before the vote, there were indications his Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy was already in play.   

Two weeks before the vote, Brown was in Northern Ontario, knocking on doors to encourage people who had signed memberships for him to make sure to get out and vote on May 3 and 7th.

A candidate who has time to knock on doors two weeks before the vote, in ridings he's already been in three and four times — rather than scrambling to make sure he's getting to all of them at all — is a candidate in really good shape.

So while it's clear Brown's high energy, passionate zeal for the job of leader and clear enjoyment of retail politics were key to his victory as the new Ontario PC leader, the deals are also undoubtedly there behind all this.

And those deals will form a big part of his new policies and politics, and if he becomes Premier, those of Ontario itself.

So the real question is: what deals has Patrick Brown made along the way, and how will he deliver on them?

Mr. Brown has been very circumspect about where he stands on numerous issues during the leadership campaign.

Instead, he focused on his slogan "For The Win" — his promise to PC members that he can put them back into government.

It will be interesting to see how long he continues to skate on what he thinks of certain issues and how he would solve some of Ontario's worst problems.

But when the time comes that Mr. Brown rolls out his policies, it's worth remembering that political policy doesn't come out of the blue.

Because neither does winning leadership campaigns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : May 11, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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