The day former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown entered Brampton’s mayoral race, incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey fired out a scathing series of tweets questioning Brown’s intentions and ties to the city.
That opening volley has been followed by nearly three months of anger, accusations and personal attacks from all sides. The contentious race shows no sign of letting up just days before voters cast their ballots.
“The tenor, the tone, the divisiveness of this campaign is very different,” Jeffrey told CBC Toronto during a campaign stop at a downtown Brampton bakery. “I’ve run campaigns since 1991 and I’ve never seen one so polarizing.”
Jeffrey is maintaining her accusation that Brown jumped into the race, and city, at the last minute in a bid to “rehabilitate” his career. Brown was forced to resign as leader of the Progressive Conservatives following allegations of sexual misconduct dating to his days as an MP were published in January, though he has denied any wrongdoing.
Brown’s mayoral bid has resulted in Brampton communities being “pulled apart,” Jeffrey said, before adding that most voters have been vocal in their distaste of Brown.
“They’re actually angry that he would put his name on the ballot,” she said.
Brown, who has represented Barrie at the federal level and nearby Simcoe North provincially, merely pretends to understand the issues facing Brampton, Jeffrey contends.
Brown slams Jeffrey for American-style politics
Brown, who now lives with his wife in downtown Brampton, says he’s actually shown a better understanding of Brampton’s challenges during debates than the city’s incumbent mayor, who’s lived in the city for some 35 years.
“There’s a real appetite for change,” he told CBC Toronto. “People are fed up, whether it’s skyrocketing taxes, whether it’s record crime, whether it’s gridlock, a lack of good-paying jobs.”
While Jeffrey blames Brown for jump-starting the bitter campaign, Brown says it’s Jeffrey’s political tactics that are to blame.
“The negative campaign push by Linda Jeffrey is similar to what we see in the States,” he said. “I don’t think it’s welcome in Brampton.”
Sitting in an empty room at his campaign office, Brown pivots to an attack on Jeffrey’s four-year tenure as mayor. He says her lack of leadership has contributed to rising property taxes and shootings.
“Let me mark my words: you’re not going to see a vacuum of leadership. You’re not going to hear crickets out of city hall if I’m the mayor of Brampton,” Brown said emphatically.
He says Jeffrey has been a poor advocate for the city — which is home to 600,000 people and growing at a rate more than twice the national average.
“I’m tired of seeing Brampton walked over,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing Brampton bullied.”
Jeffrey’s rebuttal to an opponent forced out by the ruling provincial party and a former member of the federal opposition: “I don’t think [Brown] has the ability to navigate anything federally or anything provincially.”
Oddities, endorsements, and… selfies?
Alongside the political bickering, the campaign has also featured some unusual developments and input from people outside the city.
Earlier this week, political consultant Warren Kinsella, who’s working on Toronto Mayor John Tory’s re-election campaign, tweeted out a collage of photos of Brown.
An official on Jeffrey’s campaign called the tweet “amusing” but said Kinsella has no ties to the campaign.
A group of politicians across several political stripes also appeared together this week to officially endorse Jeffrey at a campaign rally.
The group included Liberal MPs as well as MPPs affiliated with the NDP, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. Jeffrey said the group endorsement was a direct response to Brown’s entry into the race.
“It was kind of like being at the oasis and watching all the animals coming together who don’t normally hang out with each other,” Jeffrey said of the rally, which she also described as “uncomfortable.”
Brown, meanwhile, recently secured a high profile endorsement from former premier Bill Davis, who used to represent Brampton at Queen’s Park. Brown describes Davis as the greatest premier in Ontario history.
“I think the fact that he’s endorsed my campaign speaks volumes of the need for change,” he said.