A New Democratic Party candidate knocked on Martyn Brown’s door the other day.
In the old days, that would be the equivalent of a little Ewok meeting up with Darth Vader. The old Martyn Brown would have lasered him up one side and down the other.
But Martyn Brown 2.0 — who rolled out last summer and has been going strong ever since — is a completely different person.
In Brown’s telling of the encounter — in a newspaper column he has been writing regularly — the NDPer “seemed like a fine individual, earnest and obviously deeply motivated to make a positive difference in public office.”
Elsewhere in the “In Praise of Public Service” piece, he mentioned specific New Democrats in favourable terms.
There are B.C. Liberals who literally cannot believe their eyes when they read Brown these days, and compare him to the ruthless partisan operator he was for most of his previous life.
What happened to the guy who once chewed out a bunch of young Liberal staff members for being too friendly with their NDP counterparts? What happened to the boss who left the impression they’d be fired if they didn’t stop fraternizing with the enemy? Is this the same guy who once engineered a dismissal of a new government hire because of NDP links?
That was all part of the hard-driving persona that made him so successful over more than 20 years in politics.
He first made a name for himself in the early 1990s as the Social Credit caucus research director, in charge of finding mud to sling at the NDP government during question period. Brown was the last person out the door when the Socred caucus finally collapsed, moving over to the B.C. Reform Party as a caucus worker, strategist and spokesman.
He did a spell later with a citizens group fighting aboriginal title claims. It wanted to force a referendum on the Nisga’a Treaty. Then he signed up with the B.C. Liberals and became then-Opposition leader Gordon Campbell’s top adviser.
He retained the title when they won the 2001 election and held it 13 years, almost to the end. He parachuted into a deputy minister’s gig shortly before Campbell announced his resignation. He was dismissed when Christy Clark became premier. Brown walked out the door with a $400,000 severance and a lifetime of memories about how to play hardball politics.
The striking thing is that he has been renouncing his inner Dick Cheney ever since. Brown is the first to acknowledge the “glaring contradiction” between how he talks the talk and how he used to walk the walk.
He has called himself a take-no-prisoners partisan who learned the benefits of a milder approach too late in his career.
All this would just be an interesting tale of one person’s conversion in how they think privately about politics. But it’s having a public impact, too.
He wrote an e-book about a new way of doing politics and has been doing various media gigs on the same theme. It’s clear that he has renounced the B.C. Liberals as well.
Brown is now a leading critic of the party he used to live for — “boastful blasts, brave smiles and hot air.” He is dismissive of Clark’s approach to most issues. He has cast a favourable eye over NDP leader Adrian Dix’s general approach.
All of which drives the B.C. Liberals to distraction — privately.
Some Liberal cabinet ministers were astounded to read the ideas about openness and civility, given their memory of the man who is promoting them.
One of the milder Liberals promoted a moderate course a few years ago in a meeting and was emphatically shot down by Brown, only to find him now espousing the same idea publicly.
The only thing he seems to be hard-line about now is all the mistakes Clark is making.
It does them no good to have the former backroom boy sneering at their approach — which used to be his approach — from the op-ed pages and radio studios.
The conversion appears to be sincere. But it’s hard to stomach for people who remember his fervent commitment to playing rough, not so long ago.
If he decides he wants to practise what he is now preaching, it will be interesting to see where he lands in the new landscape after the May election.
© Copyright 2013