, 11.02.2017 09:36 AM

The pivot: Rod Phillips, and why Patrick Brown needs to emulate Jean Chretien

My old friend (“old” because we’ve known each other for just about two decades, not “old” because we are both, you know, older) Rod Phillips is running for Patrick Brown’s PCs in the riding of Ajax in the next provincial election.

Is it a huge pick-up for Brown?  It is.

Is it good for Ontario politics? It is.

I (and many, many others) encouraged Rod to run.  He is precisely the kind of moderate, fair-minded person we need more of in public life.  He can work with people of all ideological persuasions (e.g., Ontario Liberals appointed him to a senior position at the lottery corporation, and he leads the non-partisan CivicAction), and he has a proven record of success in the business world (e.g., he leaves Postmedia after lifting the newspaper giant into a net earnings position, as opposed to the net losses they encountered in the Paul Godfery era).

We got to know each other best when working for our mutual friend John Tory during John’s first mayoral run, in 2003.  I came to see Rod as a sober, sensible second-thought kind of guy – the kind of person we have precious few of, in these dark and dangerous Trump times.

His candidacy, then, is a big win for Patrick Brown.  But Brown needs to do more. And, for help, he need look no further than my former boss Jean Chretien.

In the difficult 1990-1993 period, Chretien faced three persistent criticisms.  One, he didn’t have any good ideas.  Two, he had a hidden agenda – what he was saying he’d do wasn’t what he’d said he’d do in the past (on everything from abortion to deficits).  And, three, Chretien didn’t have any star candidates, and his party was at war with itself.

So what did he do?  He did this.

  1.  To those who didn’t like him, Chretien would say: “Take a look at my Red Book and my team!”
  2. To those who didn’t like his platform, he’d say: “Take a look at my team – and you know me, you can trust me!”
  3. And to those who didn’t like his team, he’d say: “I’ve got the plan to make things better – and I’ve held every major government portfolio, and I know how to make it all happen!”

He pivoted.  And, three back-to-back majorities later, I’d say he kind of did okay, you know?

Patrick Brown is beefing up his team with the likes of Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney.  Next, he needs to start teasing out his policies, to address the “hidden agenda” and “empty vessel” criticisms.  And, most of all, he needs to get better known – and convince voters that he represents (per Clinton) change, versus more of the same.

Can he do that? We shall see, soon enough.  I’ll only say this: if Kathleen Wynne could prove all the pundits wrong (including this one), and win big in 2014, Patrick Brown can win big in 2018, too.

Just hire more guys like Rod.  And, you know, copy that Chretien guy.



  1. Miles Lunn says:

    Agreed. While there is much to criticize Patrick Brown for, I think he realizes running on an ideological right wing platform will just allow the party to lose another easily winneable election. Also Ajax is a key swing riding in the 905 belt and usually when the Tories win this, they win a majority so unlike Caroline Mulroney (who is in a very safe PC riding, she is more star candidate in terms of potential cabinet minister) he is in a key riding.

    Also another reason Chretien was so successful is he was underestimated by many. Otherwise its not how you perform in absolutes its how you perform relative to expectations. One could say the reason Harper lasted as long as he did was similar. Trudeau’s difficulty, although not his fault totally, is expectations are very high and he is having trouble meeting them. Martin’s downfall was partly that is he totally under performed what most expected. Otherwise undersell and overperform is a recipe for long term success, but Brown does need to strong policies too.

  2. James Smith says:

    Sadly I agree, & I don’t see similar moves to shore up the front bench of my Girts. Likeable or not, these corporate types will, if they win, set the province back another 20 years in moves that have more in common with Republicans & Mr Harris. The Grits have not taken a page from PMSH and defined Mr B. & the clock is ticking.

    • Matt says:

      The Liberals have tried, repeatedly, to define Brown.

      They have tried, repeatedly, to lay political traps for brown. He sidesteps them.

      • James Smith says:

        While I agree they have laid a few mines for him & he’s more or less avoided them, my point is they haven’t really made a good effort to pin him as the “guy smiley” he appears to be. These 3rd party attacks are in the right direction but they don’t go the distance. To me he looks & acts like D Trump jr; in fact they look like they were separated at birth.

  3. Charlie says:

    This is where Canadian politics differs so obviously from American politics.

    Teams matter in Canada. Even if personality battles take place between leaders, whose standing behind a leader as a member of the team as opposed to an endorsement says a lot about the direction and trust voters should put in that leader.

    Trudeau had a stellar team in 2015 that helped get a lot of voters excited about supporting the Liberals in different ridings across Canada.

    If Patrick Brown surrounds himself with component, talented and good people, it can go a long way in assuaging concerns of his skeptics.

    Also: bad teammates can hurt leaders too and reflect badly on their judgement.

  4. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I don’t see the PCs winning. If poll after poll says that Brown is either unknown, or known but without making a strong impression, that says to me that potential voters are at best, indifferent to him and at worst, not interested in him. That doesn’t win elections.

    • BlueGritr says:

      Mr. O’Dowd, I agree. The 416/905 will carry the Liberals to a razor-thin minority government win. The more people see of Patrick Brown, the more they will say: better to stick with what we’ve got. As an aside, too bad the OLP is not led by either Sandra Pupatello or Dwight Duncan: pro-business types that Ontario desperately needs to be competitive again.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Blue Gritr,

        You could quite possibly turn out to be right — and prove that you are a far better strategist than yours truly.

        As for my analysis, my dough remains on Horwath to form government. (I like tree limbs!)

        • BlueGritr says:

          Mr. O’Dowd, me thinks the New Democrat vote will stampede to the Liberals to avoid a PC government.

          • Ronald O'Dowd says:


            I think it’s fair to say that this is Herle’s strategy going all the way down to his other strategists. The problem I see, as a non-Ontarian, who knows relatively little about Ontario politics, is that it worked for McGuinty and Wynne against Hudak and even Tory.

            Why I think it won’t work now is because of Kathleen’s personal popularity number. That IMHO, completely changes the electoral dynamic.

            Remember how they pardoned Wynne after a series of mea culpas in the debate and elsewhere? That could happen in this campaign for Horwath re: the relatively right-wing campaign Andrea ran last time.


    • Miles Lunn says:

      Not necessarily, it is tough for opposition leaders to get known. Brian Pallister and John Horgan both had similar numbers and both went onto become premiers. True in the latter he won fewer seats and had to rely on the Greens although also Christy Clark’s approval rating was much better than Wynne’s, whereas Selinger’s was similar to Wynne’s. It is more disapproval I think that matters and his is not so high. Otherwise people vote governments out not in so as long as his disapproval rating doesn’t go too high, he should be able to win. Not a guarantee, but I think the PCs are still the favourites to win. The OLP has been in power for 15 years and usually after a decade unless the opposition is really bad people are ready to turf you.

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