Patrick Brown cleared to run for Ontario PC leadership

Patrick Brown has been cleared to run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, a job he previously held, the party revealed Wednesday afternoon.

Party nomination committee weighed his candidacy amid sexual misconduct allegations, ethics complaint

The province's PC nomination committee approved Patrick Brown to run for party leader on Wednesday amid accusations of sexual misconduct and a complaint he breached Ontario's ethics rules. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Patrick Brown has been cleared to run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, a job he previously held, the party revealed Wednesday afternoon.

The news was confirmed by Hartley Lefton, chair of the PC Party's leadership committee, on Twitter. 

Brown's registration in the leadership race has ignited a fractious internal battle between his grassroots supporters, caucus allies and the party's top brass. The public squabble fuelled speculation the PC provincial nomination committee would block his candidacy.

The embattled former Opposition leader is a candidate in Barrie–Springwater–Oro–Medonte, a new provincial riding that will be contested for the first time in the spring election.

Brown was interviewed Tuesday night by the committee, which wields the power to reject a leadership candidate on any grounds it sees fit. While there isn't a formal process, vetting usually includes looks at a potential candidate's employment and legal history, as well as their social media footprint, among other considerations.

Initially, it was unclear whether a complaint filed with the province's integrity commissioner earlier in the day would affect the committee's decision. 

"I don't tolerate dishonesty and I speak up and will challenge him at anytime," MPP Randy Hillier said Wednesday outside the legislative chamber, referring to Brown's alleged financial and ethical impropriety laid out in his complaint. 

The four other candidates vying for PC leadership are Caroline Mulroney, Christine Elliott, Doug Ford and Tanya Granic Allen.

Mulroney, who is a candidate in the York–Simcoe riding, was the only contender who had already been successfully vetted by the leadership committee last year. The other rivals were interviewed Tuesday and all received the green light. 

"Now is the time for our party to move forward," Elliott said in a statement Wednesday following the committee's announcement.

The PCs will vote for their next leader between March 2 and March 8, with results to be announced on March 10. 

PC caucus divided

The news of Brown's approval was met with mixed reactions from Tory caucus members, both past and present. 

Garlfield Dunlop, former MPP of Simcoe North, the same seat Brown now represents, was "very, very pleased" by the news. 

"This is the guy that rebuilt our party over the last three years, so the reality is that he has done a really good job, but it has been a witch hunt all along," he said of the accusations.  

"I think he will win the leadership and will be the next premier of Ontario."  

Brown, who won the leadership race in 2015, tried to align the party with the political centre.

"Patrick Brown has been an incredible leader and done a great job," said Dunlop, adding his list of accolades includes being the original one to bring thousands of new members into the PC party, which includes the four other candidates in the current race. 

Meanwhile, PC energy critic Todd Smith said he is remaining neutral about the committee's decision — despite chairing Elliott's leadership campaign. 

"I would never count Patrick Brown out," he told CBC Toronto. 

While the MPP for Prince Edward–Hastings called the mounting allegations against Brown a "side show" and "distraction" from the party's goal of winning the general election in four months, he said it's ultimately up to party members to decide if Brown is fit to defeat Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"Now that he is in the race there are five [candidates] and we will let the membership decide," he said. "That's going to be over in 16 days and we look forward to unifying whoever is elected as our leader and getting on with the matters on hand, which involve getting Ontario back."   

Several allegations against Brown

Brown, the 39-year-old MPP who currently represents Simcoe North in the legislature, has endured a tumultuous year so far. He was forced to resign his leadership post late last month after he lost support from most of caucus and key staff members following allegations of sexual misconduct by two women. 

Brown "vehemently" denied the accusations, repeatedly saying in statements posted to Facebook that important elements of the women's stories can be proven to be untrue. He maintains that his name has been cleared since the allegations were first published. 

Patrick Brown's face was featured on the PC's platform for the 2018 provincial election touting the People's Guarantee. He vows to uphold these promises if he wins leadership of the Opposition. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

On Friday, just hours before Brown filed his leadership registration papers to enter the race he triggered, PC interim leader Vic Fedeli booted him from caucus, forcing him to sit as an independent in the legislature. Fedeli also sent a letter to the PC party executive stating that Brown did not have his confidence to run as a PC candidate in the June 7 election.

Despite the fallout, Brown pressed on, holding a campaign-style event with supporters at a Mississauga hotel over the weekend. 

"We can't win by walking away from the platform that our party members worked so hard to build," he said of the People's Guarantee, which the PC's rolled out this fall. 

'I don't tolerate dishonesty,' Conservative MPP Randy Hillier says of Patrick Brown's alleged ethics breach. This comes a day after he filed a complaint with the province's integrity commissioner. (CBC)

Then on Tuesday, Hillier filed a lengthy complaint against Brown with Ontario's integrity commissioner accusing him of "dirty and crooked politics" that breached the province's ethics rules during his time as Tory leader. 

"We have uncovered a lot of things that don't appear proper," he told reporters Wednesday outside the legislative chamber.

The five-page document outlined allegations of "significant" financial and ethical impropriety, including a failure to report sources of income, which includes financial ties to his Barrie house and nomination votes, alongside the acceptance of "lavish" gifts.

"We have a Members' Integrity Act for a purpose and for a reason. It's not to be followed sometimes. It's not to be thought of as a frivolous nature," he said.

"Democracy and our institutions require openness and transparency, and requires legislators to follow the law as well as people."  

Brown, in response to the complaint, called Hillier's filing "garbage" and said "that's just Randy being Randy." He also vowed it would not deter him from continuing his leadership campaign.

On Wednesday, CBC Toronto learned that two PC members named in Hillier's complaint about an alleged all-expense paid trip to India in January 2016 say they don't have any evidence that Brown accepted this gift or withheld disclosing it from the province's integrity commissioner. 

MPPs Lisa MacLeod and Jack MacLaren acknowledged they accompanied Brown to India, but could not confirm the other details that Hillier outlined. 

Both added they paid for their own trips.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story quoted Caroline Mulroney as saying "Now is the time for our party to move forward." In fact, the statement was made by Christine Elliott.
    Feb 21, 2018 6:51 PM ET

With files from Mike Crawley and Lucas Powers