Patrick Brown’s fall was inevitable, not a “witch hunt”

I’m a conservative pundit in a country that doesn’t have a lot of them, so it’s been easy for me to cultivate friends and sources  — often very high-ranking ones — in Canada’s federal and provincial conservative parties, as well as Canada’s broader conservative “movement” (to the extent it exists). Given this context, I hope I will have some credibility when I say that when it comes to Patrick Brown, absolutely everyone who’s anyone knew.

In talking to conservatives about the upcoming Ontario elections, the understanding that Patrick Brown was a womanizer — of an often creepy and predatory sort — was baked into all political analysis of the man. Social conservatives, and those who simply took conservative ideas seriously, viewed Brown’s womanizing as additional proof of the man’s moral emptiness. More pragmatic or cutthroat partisans were less bothered, but still anxious that “the women” would eventually come forward — or be brought forward by the Wynne Liberals — and cause enormous turmoil in Brown’s campaign for premier. The only thing that’s truly mysterious about the whole episode is how quickly Brown’s inner circle ditched him following the revelations. Since they surely knew “the women” were coming, one would have expected a better defensive strategy. My guess is they were prepared for irate former staffers — but not a teenager.

There are obvious questions to be asked about moral responsibility. I  thought seriously about making some sort of website where disgusted Tories could submit stories about Brown’s antics, in order to bring public attention to a reality the mainstream press was choosing to ignore. I put out a Twitter call for submissions and received a few, but they wound up being so salacious I got nervous. Even though I’m not very famous, I worried about the legal and professional consequences of airing so much dirt anonymously. As far as Brown’s inner circle goes, however, what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it questions will continue to loom large, and will surely provide ample fodder to the Liberals for a long time to come. John Casselman, who leads a dissident faction of PC voters, sent out an email calling for the party to engage in a full-scale purge of all Brown’s hires and intimates. It’s hard to imagine any other way to kill his ghost.

An equally serious question of accountability must be asked of the Ontario news media. For many years Canadian political journalism has operated on the assumption that there’s something heroic and noble about never reporting on the “personal lives” of politicians. Even when newsrooms and capitals swirl with rumors so large and omnipresent they rise to the level of — to use the favored cliché of the moment —  “open secrets,” the iron principle is that the public must never be told. Affairs, sexual impropriety, drug and alcohol abuse, to say nothing of more innocuous, but still relevant facts like a politician’s sexuality, marital status, or romantic status more broadly — all are tightly held as privileged gossip of the chosen few. If such “irrelevant” knowledge was to fall into the hands of the vulgar public, the logic goes, that public might use that knowledge to inform their political opinions. And if Canadians began forming opinions on politicians based on the sort of people they are, rather than hermetically compartmentalizing the “personal” from the “political,” then Canadian political culture might evolve in a direction the journalistic class scorns — ie; an “American” direction in which things like affairs or addictions routinely force resignations. This is at odds with the who-am-I-to-judge progressive sensibility, and is considered a self-evident bad.

I remember an NPR interview a few years ago featuring Gawker editor John cook and Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank. This was at the height of the Rob Ford clustercuss, and Cook expressed incredulity over the degree to which the Toronto press had conspired for years to suppress damning stories about the Ford brothers, particularly the large role alcohol and drugs — including drug dealing — played in their “personal lives.” Cruickshank lamely replied that Canadians just “think differently” about these sorts of things, inspiring Cook to parry with perhaps the single best summary of Canadian media culture: “in the land of the passive aggressive, the truly aggressive is king.”

I say all this not in an effort to pass off Patrick Brown as a problem for my ideological enemies — to repeat, the conservative apparatus of Ontario has a lot to say for itself — but it does suggest that toxic politicians like Brown are an inevitable byproduct of a certain progressive culture in which judgement of personal conduct is considered the real crime. As Jonah Goldberg recently put it, the present moment is forcing many liberals to rethink their once standard assumption that there’s something “very French and sophisticated” about licentious men, and if the end result is an increasing right-left consensus that character matters in politics, I’m all for it.

A final thought — the surprisingly large amount of liberal journalists who have chosen to make Patrick Brown a case study of #metoo culture gone mad are inadvertently exposing themselves as shockingly ignorant observers of conservative Canada. Of all the columns I’ve read in the aftermath of Brown’s resignation, only Adam Radwanski’s in the Globe seems informed by the realities of what was actually going on in the party, while the writings of others — particularly those who claim to be “shocked” by the “speed” or “suddenness” of Brown’s fall, reveal ostensibly well-informed political journalists who clearly never venture outside their ideological bubble. Searching for a sympathetic character in exotic terrain, they have settled on the villain.