After spending a few minutes with Patrick Brown, it isn’t hard to see why so many people voted for him to be the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.
He is well spoken, hits the various talking points well and at least in small groups is more dynamic than his predecessor (let’s face it, so is the table we were talking across.)
How well that translates to the bigger stage won’t be known until he gets some time on the bigger stage.
I suspect he will fall somewhere between Tim Hudak and John Tory on that score, although I can see Brown having that evangelical tent preacher appeal going for him. He certainly has the intensity.
He (or at least advisers that he listens to) also has an insightful understanding of the limitations created by the fact his part has spent a dozen years in opposition and is fated to spend at least three more.
One of the great advantages of being in opposition is the freedom to criticize without necessarily having to produce. For instance, in opposition, a party can bemoan high energy prices as much as they want because they won’t actually have to make changes to anything to lower them.
Until they do of course. But by that time they will have been elected and can change their tune as much as they want (hereafter known as “the Liberal Plan.”)
The danger of this approach is after a while people stop listening because you are criticizing everything the other guy does, even if it kind of makes a little bit of sense.
Media outlets generally and pundits particularly know this phenomena well; it is why, as much as possible, there is a balance of good news and bad news, pro and con criticism, because too much of one or the other leads people to assume you are always going to fall on the same side of the argument, regardless of what is said.
Brown seems to understand this as well, which explains why he is making a point of ensuring people know he will come out in favor of policies he approves of regardless of whose idea it is.
As noted earlier this week, that is easier said than done, because while it is easy to agree with the other side when they agree with you, it is harder to agree with them when their ideas aren’t ones you would necessarily consider in their place.
It also requires a certain amount of delicacy, in that being too supportive of their opponents could lead to the question of why people would need the PCs at all if their opponents are doing such a good job.
To that end, Brown will have to walk a fine line.
Or he could take his idea a step further and not limit praise of his opponents to just himself or his key spokespeople.
What about giving his caucus more free reign to not only agree with opposition parties on certain issues but to do so even when it’s in contradiction of their own party?
At first glance this idea not only flies in the face of Canadian political practice it would appear self-defeating: why would any party leader let his party members disagree with him? That would just be helping his opponents.
To a degree that is correct. But then again the policy would have to have degrees, or at least discretion, as well.
For instance – as an extreme example – you couldn’t have Tories saying Andrea Horwath was a better party leader. But you could have individual Tories supporting certain NDP-led initiatives, like the recently passed Bill 77 which outlawed conversion therapy to change gay, lesbian and trans gender youth.
Allowing party members to express their own opinions gives greater credence to the party’s opinion when the members express that as a group, since people know for the most part this is a choice, not a requirement.
That of course will be the challenge – when are members required to support party policy and when can they go it alone.
It’s a bigger challenge than simply trying to figure out when you can say your opponent has done a good thing and when they haven’t.
But the reward for figuring it out – being taken as an honest critic of the government’s policies – is also bigger.
It would be a bold step for sure, not one I see Mr. Brown taking, at least not immediately out of the gate.
But it would be pretty cool to see someday.
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