It's been a wild last few hours in Ontario politics.
Two women have made allegations of sexual misconduct against Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown. The allegations, which have not been proven in court, were made public Wednesday night.
Brown called a news conference just before 10 p.m. where he denied the allegations. Then, only hours later, he resigned.
Queen's Park analyst Robert Fisher talks about what this could mean for Brown and his party's prospects in the summer election. He spoke with the CBC's Jennifer Hall. Listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of the page, or read an edited and abridged transcript below.
Robert Fisher, Ontario politics analyst
What's the very latest you're hearing?
The Conservative caucus met by telephone conference last night. They agreed with the party's two deputy leaders, Sylvia Jones and Steven Clark, that there was no way Brown could lead the party into the June election. The caucus discussed this, I'm told, in a state of shock and disbelief. That's what led to Mr. Brown's decision to resign. In his first statement, short and emotional as it was, there was no indication he planned to leave. He might have been looking for support from people that simply wasn't there. The senior people around Mr. Brown told him to resign. He refused. So, they quit.
Now the caucus will have to meet again and according to the party's constitution will have to elect an interim leader. Whether he or she will lead the party into the June election is very much an open question.
Who could be the interim leader, and potentially the party leader, heading into the election?
The rumour mill is spinning wildly. Some names being floated, though not confirmed, include Ottawa's Lisa MacLeod. The optics of replacing Brown with a woman could help the party. North Bay's Vic Fedeli has been the party's finance critic. He could be a candidate. We've even heard talk of the former head of the OLG, Postmedia executive Rod Phillips, running. Who knows? Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of the former Prime Minister, is a candidate in the Toronto area. Could they turn to her? It seems unlikely they'd go to a rookie. There's not a lot of experience in the caucus to choose from. It makes the party's decision about how to go into this campaign extraordinarily difficult.
How about Christine Elliot?
If she had stayed in the caucus after losing to Mr. Brown in 2015, it would be an automatic. A lot of people in the party thought that she should have been leader but the votes weren't there. She departed for an appointment from the government. Coming back would be extremely difficult. I'm sure people have proposed the idea in telephone conversations. Even Conservatives I've spoken to this morning don't know where this thing is going to land.
What does this mean for the Liberals and the NDP?
I've said before not to discount Kathleen Wynne's ability to pull this election out of the fire. She's done that her whole political career. For Andrea Horwath, though there is no gloating going on, even in private, that I have detected, this could mean a substantial boost. Her party is seen as an alternative to the Liberals. Kathleen Wynne might just pull this off. It looked like it was all over for her. The playing field is very level this morning.
I've talked to enough party leaders to know that the first political campaign is the toughest to undertake. If you are a rookie with little profile, it makes it an almost impossible task. Many Conservatives worried, even while they were leading in the polls, 'what happens if we screw it up?' 2011 was supposed to be a Tory victory against Dalton McGuinty. It didn't happen. 2014 they were going to defeat Kathleen Wynne and now dark clouds hang over 2018 as well.
What will Patrick Brown do in the next few days?
Consult with his lawyers. Clearly, he'll try to move this as quickly as possible into the courts. That won't be easy. His future is in doubt. How do you come back from this? As he acknowledged last night the court of public opinion has probably already judged him. Whether that's right or wrong, I'm not going to say, but a lot of people will have made up their minds. Even if he were to be cleared, there would always be a stigma that follows him. He better be looking for employment some place else outside Queen's Park, though he will stay on as an MPP.