Patrick Brown’s success in Brampton came as no surprise to those who know him, but political experts say the real test for the new mayor lies in how well he will work with the provincial party that rejected him in January and is now in charge at Queen’s Park.
“He is the hardest working person I have ever met, without any question,” said Walied Soliman, who was the Ontario PC party’s campaign chair under Brown.
“He really believes in public service. He loves it,” said Soliman. “He’s a lawyer. He could do a lot of things, but he really believes in public service.”
Brown, who defeated incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey on Monday night, was elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in 2015. Unproven allegations of sexual impropriety — which he denied and is fighting with a lawsuit — toppled him from that post in January. He was prevented from running for regional chair of Peel when Premier Doug Ford cancelled that election, then registered for Brampton’s mayoral race on July 27.
“Being someone who has fallen out with powerful people in the provincial Conservative party might make it more difficult for him to build bridges across levels of government,” said Martin Horak, associate director of the Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance at University of Western Ontario.
Brown could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
At Queen’s Park, Government House Leader Todd Smith took a diplomatic approach when asked about Brown’s victory in Brampton, noting “there’s life after Queen’s Park.”
“We want to work with those who are duly elected,” Smith told reporters. “If there are outstanding investigations that are underway, we’ll await the results of those investigations, but clearly the people of Brampton voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new mayor-elect.”
Earlier this year, Smith blamed Brown for creating a “circus-type of atmosphere” with his ill-fated comeback attempt to lead the party after resigning over the sexual misconduct allegations.
The government has a responsibility to work with new mayors and councils right across the province, Smith added.
“We don’t agree with all of them in their stances, obviously, on various things,” he said. “We have a number of former Liberal ministers that were successful last night as mayors and councillors, too.”
Brown won the Brampton mayoralty because he did what he does best, which is run strong grassroots campaigns, said Brett Bell, a longtime Conservative activist who has known Brown since his days as president of the PC Youth Federation.
Brown met with voters in their unfinished basements and living rooms, in churches and temples and at cricket matches, over Hindu celebrations like Navaratri, and at breakfast and brunch.
“You can say a lot about Patrick, but you can’t question his hustle, and certainly he is a hard-working person. He and his team were out there constantly really, from the beginning,” said Bell.
“Especially where you don’t have party infrastructure and you’re not blanketing TV and radio with ads like you see in a federal or provincial election, on the municipal level it really is about knocking on doors and creating connections in the different communities.”
Brown’s first challenge will be to unite city council so it can present a united front to the province when it comes to getting funding for programs and services in Brampton and the province is facing a daunting budget deficit, Bell pointed out.
“He’s got his work cut out for him, for sure,” he said.
With files from Rob Ferguson
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF