In the annals of Canadian politics, that was surely the most bizarre and unsettling news conference ever. Patrick Brown, former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, appeared before the cameras for a few minutes, denied everything and then ran away.
CTV News was about to air sexual-misconduct allegations brought against him by two women, and on short notice he spoke to the TV cameras at Queen's Park. The report was going to air at 10 p.m. ET and Brown's harum-scarum statement, no questions allowed, was at 9:45 pm.
"A couple of hours ago I learned about troubling allegations about my conduct and my character," Brown said in a voice that shook. "These allegations are false, categorically untrue – every one of them. I will defend myself as hard as I can with all the means at my disposal."
There was a bit more to his short statement, but the words hardly mattered. The anger in his eyes, the clenched body and terseness of his tone said everything – he looked like the last man on earth, the one who still doesn't get that allegations of sexual misconduct should never, ever be addressed with dismissive male rage and resentment.
Rarely has a politician looked so emotionally shattered and alone. And he was alone because, it was soon clear, his staff had resigned en masse. What he did, in appearing by himself at a hastily arranged news conference, was undignified and ugly. In the glare of the cameras and under the instant microscopic scrutiny that comes with a fast-moving news story, he looked like a frightened little man, running way into oblivion.
By my estimation the walk took one minute and twenty-five seconds. Each second was excruciating. He legged it down several flights of stairs, reporters and cameras in pursuit with questions being shouted and he said only this: "I'll be back at work tomorrow." As if this was all something to be angry about and it would all evaporate once the manly business of the work day had resumed. These days that is the definition of delusional.
The context makes it all the more outlandish. With a June election looming in Ontario and Brown's party ahead in the polls, he looked – on paper – like the next premier. Never quite settled in the public imagination, mind you, as a fully formed leader-in-waiting, he has always seemed oddly jejune. And now we know that he was and is just that.
Before midnight, and before he actually resigned as leader, CTV News was in the business of discussing what happens next. (CBC's The National on the main network carried Brown's statement at 10 p.m. ET, with a semi-detailed report, and co-anchor Rosemary Barton rather sniffily referred to the story as, "another media outlet's reporting." It was only on later editions that the story was really thrashed out.) The Ontario PC caucus members were talking on the phone, viewers were told. A list of candidates to replace Brown was floated, and it included Caroline Mulroney, who hasn't even been elected an MPP yet, and Lisa MacLeod, largely unknown, but an MPP since 2006.
Shortly after 1 a.m. ET, Brown had officially resigned as leader of the party. He has spent almost his entire adult life in politics, and the 39-year-old was gone about four hours after the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. In his resignation statement issued online, he declared he would "definitively" clear his name, boasted about his achievement in expanding the party base and mentioned Ontario Premier and Liberal Party Leader Kathleen Wynne twice. As if she were the problem at hand.
At least he didn't make his resignation at a chaotic news conference and leg it out of the building. The speculation on CTV News was that a new leader might, just might, unite the party and be more appealing than Brown. That wouldn't be hard after the ugly spectacle of Brown ignobly attempting to deal with serious allegations, and then running away.