A month ago, Patrick Brown was on track to be the next premier of Ontario, widely anticipated to win the June election. But in a bizarre series of twists over the past month, Brown’s star has crashed to earth. He was accused of sexual harassment by two women. He denies the charges and says he can disprove elements of them, but at this particular political and cultural moment, logic and common sense dictated that he step down. Brown wouldn’t be dictated to: Despite the looming election and the resignation of several PC party senior staff, he had to be strong-armed into resigning.
It’s was a short-lived retirement. He then joined the leadership race to replace himself, while threatening legal action against CTV, the news outlet that broke the sexual misconduct story. And then, earlier this week, he withdrew from contention. He realized, he said, that his leadership bid, which became even more complicated when he was accused of violating ethics rules regarding his finances, had “become a source of distraction from the real goal of replacing [the Liberals].”
Don’t underestimate Brown, though: By the time you finish reading this column, he could be back in the leadership race, or running for prom king, or gunning to be the next Bachelor.
Brown suffers from an excess of what’s called white guy confidence — men whose relatively frictionless rise to power and success has created an outsized self-regard. There’s a great quip about George Bush Sr. that says he was “born on third base and thought he hit a triple,” but it could be applied to a lot of men. Writing about Justin Timberlake’s lacklustre Super Bowl performance in the Globe and Mail, Denise Balkissoon said the singer had “grown used to [his] mere existence being considered an achievement.”
In Brown’s case, his ego is so enormous, his desire for personal victory so great, that he entered the leadership race, not caring if he destroyed his party; he didn’t concern himself with the discomfort of his supporters, constituents, friends and family; didn’t sweat the fact that Ontario voters have serious concerns to weigh in June, like the environment, the economy, education and so on. Brown’s resistance to accepting the seriousness of the allegations against him reveals a cavern of delusion. Writing about Brown’s leadership failings in The Walrus, Jen Gerson noted that the allegations “set off the creep alarm” and demonstrated his immaturity and poor judgement.
Honestly, though, there’s something inspiring in Brown’s massive, entitled sense of confidence. How he’s handled himself after the allegations is childish and selfish, of course, but it has to be kind of terrific to be so sure of yourself and your value that you’re prepared to make a provincial election all about you. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I feel as though I spend half my life apologizing and still find it difficult to accept a compliment, even for things I’m proud of. Like a lot of women, my inner monologue is swamped with self-doubt, regret and anxiety: Did I just offend that friend? Why didn’t I ask for more money when I negotiated that assignment? Am I failing as a parent?
Many women, in all fields, share this impulse. It’s certainly prevalent in politics. A few years ago, I spoke to Anne McGrath, an NDP political advisor and operative. She’s been recruiting political candidate for two decades. In that time, she’s never had a man admit he didn’t think he was experienced enough or smart enough for the job. But she heard that from women all the time. “Sometimes, the only way for me to get a woman to run is to tell [her] that the seat is unwinnable,” she said. “Then she’ll do it because she believes in the party, or she cares about a particular issue, because she won’t do it for her own ambition.”
I bring this up not to blame women for their lack of political representation and success. Ambition, ego and confidence are often punished in women. “Lean in” may have been adopted as the high-powered lady mantra, but research shows that the very same techniques that work for men routinely backfire when employed by women. In salary negotiations, for instance, when men stick up for themselves, they get more money and are seen as strong and tough. Women who do the same are perceived as unlikeable.
Still, I think the only way to change this dynamic is to continue to urge women to be confident — even when they don’t feel it. A couple of years back, writer Sarah Hagi tweeted this inspiring advice, “DAILY PRAYER TO COMBAT IMPOSTOR SYNDROME: God give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude.” We should take this to heart.
As for Brown, he’s offered a perfect lesson in how not to conduct yourself as a person, politician and leader. But the next time I bat away a compliment or doubt whether I’m good enough, I’ll repeat these two words to myself: Patrick Brown.
MORE ABOUT PATRICK BROWN:
- The last hours of Patrick Brown’s leadership
- Patrick Brown’s weakness cost him his job—and his shot to retake it
- The phone call that ended Patrick Brown’s leadership
- What America can teach Canada about its broken leadership systems
- The elevator warning at the centre of Canada’s political reckoning
- The doggedness of Patrick Brown
- What Patrick Brown reveals about Canada’s broken leadership systems
- Patrick Brown enters Ontario PC leadership race: video