Opinion: Brown’s sex scandal could boost fortunes of Horwath and NDP

Politically, the big winners from the Patrick Brown scandal are Andrea Horwath’s Ontario New Democrats.

Until Brown was forced to resign Thursday as leader of the province’s Progressive Conservatives, his party had been, in effect, the default alternative to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s struggling Liberals.

Voters might not know much about Brown (polls show that roughly half of Ontarians have no opinion of him one way or the other). But as long as he didn’t do anything crazy, he seemed a safe alternative to the desperately unpopular Wynne.

That all changed Wednesday night after CTV aired allegations by two unnamed women that Brown had made sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers.

Brown categorically denied the allegations. But the damage was done. His caucus unanimously called on him to resign as leader. Early Thursday morning, he complied.

With less than six months to go until the next provincial election, the now leaderless Tories are in an unhappy situation.

On the one hand, they are tarred in the public mind by these sexual impropriety allegations. On the other, they have laid themselves open to charges that they acted precipitously in axing Brown simply because of an unproven television report based on anonymous claims.

More to the point, they have only until June 7 to find, burnish and publicize a new leader. Any kind of leadership process risks reopening old fissures within the party between Red and Blue Tories.

Social conservatives within the party already felt conned by Brown, who won the leadership in 2015 with their backing and then turned on them. They will not easily be had a second time.

With a new leader, will the party revise Brown’s “People’s Guarantee” election platform, which currently supports many of Wynne’s labour and health reforms, as well as calling for short-term fiscal deficits?

Certainly, there will be pressure from the right to modify a document that is already derided by some Tories as “Liberal lite.”

Politically, all of this uncertainty is good news for Horwath. Indeed, in some ways her NDP is in the same position it held just before it won power under Bob Rae in 1990.

Then, as now, the NDP differed little ideologically from the governing Liberals. Today, for instance, both Horwath and Wynne – while differing on the details – support expanded labour rights and limited pharmacare.

In 1990, polls showed Rae to be the province’s most popular political leader. Horwath holds that position today.

But what could emerge as the most striking similarity between 1990 and 2018 is the position of the Tories.

For various reasons, their brand had taken a hit in 1990. Their direction was uncertain. Their new leader, an unknown MPP from North Bay named Mike Harris, had not been in place long enough to make much of an impression.

As well, their political fortunes were affected by the historic unpopularity of Canada’s then Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

The upshot of this was that the Tories – already in third place in the Legislature – forfeited their role as default alternative to the governing Liberals.

When voters decided they wanted to throw the bums out in 1990, they turned not to the Mike Harris PCs to do the job but to Bob Rae and the NDP.

History rarely repeats itself directly. A lot can happen between now and June 7. But if, as the politicians seem to think, the upcoming election becomes a referendum on whether to oust Wynne, then voters will be looking for a credible alternative to the Liberals – one that will be different but not too different.

Until Wednesday night, that credible alternative was Brown’s PC party. Now, for a surprising number of voters, it could end up being Horwath’s NDP.

Thomas Walkom is a national affairs writer.

Just Posted

Canyon Ski Resort season wraps up Sunday

Central Alberta skiers and snowboarders only have a couple more days to… Continue reading

Future space crunch is feared, as no new schools for Red Deer are in the budget

Only local modernization will be at Father Lacombe Catholic School in Lacombe

A million dollars for Red Deer hospital is not nearly enough, says Mayor Veer

Mayor is concerned Red Deer hospital is still not on province’s five-year capital list

No drug treatment centre, or additional shelter beds for Red Deer

But Red Deer will get more affordable housing and sustained capital funding

Hit and run adjourned to April

Crash into Papa Baldy’s Pizza

WATCH: Hundreds come to Red Deer Rebels Fan Fest

The Red Deer Rebels met with legions of their of fans just… Continue reading

Supreme Court rules former Stephen Harper aide guilty of influence peddling

OTTAWA — Canada’s highest court has upheld an influence peddling conviction against… Continue reading

2 killed, dozen hurt in French supermarket hostage-taking

PARIS — An armed man took hostages in a supermarket in southern… Continue reading

READER PHOTO: Red Deer students celebrate Canadian courage at Juno Beach

Teenagers from Red Deer’s Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School are learning about… Continue reading

UN report: Loss of plants, animals making a lonelier planet

WASHINGTON — New United Nations scientific reports diagnose that Earth is getting… Continue reading

Excavator frees dolphins trapped by pack ice in Newfoundland harbour

HEARTS DELIGHT, N.L. — A pod of dolphins trapped by pack ice… Continue reading

Structure fire destroys home in Mirror

A house in Mirror is completely damaged due to an overnight structure… Continue reading

Trudeau warns senators not to thwart will of Canadians on marijuana bill

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reminding senators that his government… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month