TORONTO — Patrick Brown is down, but he may not be out yet.
The embattled politician, who was forced to resign as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives months before the party won a majority government, is trying to resurrect his political career with a run for mayor in Brampton, a fast-growing city northwest of Toronto where over 70 per cent of residents identify as visible minorities.
Brown faces an uphill battle against incumbent Mayor Linda Jeffrey, a former Liberal cabinet minister who has the support of high-profile politicians from major parties, including some of Brown’s former colleagues.
The 40-year-old’s foray into city politics followed a short-lived campaign to become chair of Peel Region, an elected position Premier Doug Ford, who succeeded Brown as Tory leader, abruptly turned into an appointed role just three months shy of Monday’s municipal election.
“In the minds of many voters in Brampton there may be a question of whether Patrick Brown is more interested in taking on Premier Ford and perhaps some retribution against Mr. Ford more so than serving the residents of Brampton,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University.
“This might be the preliminary round as far as Mr. Brown is hopeful for a featured match with Premier Ford.”
Brown — who represented residents of Barrie, Ont., municipally and federally before becoming a provincial legislator for an area north of the city — insists he cares deeply about Brampton, where he now resides with his newly wed wife.
“I’m worried about Brampton,” he said during a recent debate. “You used to talk about Brampton and it was the envy of the (Greater Toronto Area) … they certainly don’t talk about it that way today.”
Jeffrey, meanwhile, has called Brown a political opportunist, accusing him of using the Brampton mayoral race to rehabilitate his political career.
“The ink barely dried on his lease before he decided to seek our city’s highest office,” she said after Brown entered the race.
Despite Brown’s efforts to turn the page on the scandal that erupted in January when CTV News reported allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against the then-Tory leader by two women — claims he has denied — his days at the provincial legislature are still making headlines.
A government document leaked to the media this week — just days before the vote in Brampton — showed Brown spent nearly $300,000 on support staff and office operations after resigning as leader and being turfed from Tory caucus. The expenses were in line with legislative rules and involved severance payments to staff, Brown said in a statement.
He is also suing CTV News for defamation, although the broadcaster maintains it did nothing wrong when it reported the allegations against him.
Brown, who did not respond to several requests for an interview, is also writing a tell-all book about what he has described as his “political assassination.”
If Brown emerges a winner on Monday, he could be a thorn in Ford’s side for years to come, said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
“If he becomes mayor, it gives him a platform to make a lot of noise,” he said. “It’s something politically that Ford and his office would have to deal with.”
Wiseman said Brown’s hopes to win could hinge on his connections within Brampton’s politically active Indo-Canadian community. Brown is friends with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has visited the country more than a dozen times.
“He’s got all this baggage but on the other hand he’s got name identification, which helps people municipally,” Wiseman said.
“Some people might feel, getting someone like this, even though he’s infamous in many ways, is an asset … some might think it will be bad for the city’s image and for dealing with the provincial government.”
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press