Sexual misconduct allegations against Patrick Brown won't deter Ontario PC goals, co-deputy leader says
Sylvia Jones calls resignation 'a hiccup' for leadership process, then later apologizes on Twitter
One of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party's two deputy leaders vowed Thursday the party will be ready for the June 7 provincial election and form the next government after allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against Patrick Brown led to his resignation.
Sylvia Jones initially referred to Brown's resignation as "a hiccup" for the leadership. She later apologized on Twitter.
"No part of this was a 'hiccup.' It was a very long press conference, I misspoke and I apologize," she said in a tweet.
Jones and co-deputy Steve Clark answered reporters' questions hours after Brown stepped down as party leader following a CTV News report that two women made allegations that date back to when Brown was a federal MP representing a Barrie, Ont., riding.
CBC News spoke to one of the two women on Thursday. In a phone interview with Rosemary Barton, co-host of The National, the woman alleges Brown made unwanted sexual advances toward her while she was drunk during a party at his Barrie home in 2013. The woman claims she was a teenage summer student for Brown at the time.
Brown denied the allegations during a surprise news conference late Wednesday evening where he vowed to "definitively clear [his] name from these false allegations."
Jones and Clark said they first learned of the allegations from Wednesday night's news report, and they came as "a shock."
The two women "have the right to be heard," said Jones.
She added that the PCs will be in a strong position heading into the election.
"Was last night a hiccup? Absolutely," said Jones. "But we are going to move forward."
Asked to clarify "hiccup," Jones said it referred to the party's leadership. Pressed that some may view the allegations and Brown's subsequent resignation as more than a hiccup, Jones replied: "Fair enough."
Jones and Clark will meet with the party's executive tonight and then with caucus on Friday to choose an interim leader. They would not say whether a full leadership contest will take place before campaigning begins ahead of the June 7 election.
Asked whether the party may lose some candidates, they said they had not heard of anyone stepping away following Brown's resignation.
"The goal for us is to become the government in June," said Clark.
Ontarians must 'shine a light' on harassment
Earlier Thursday, Premier Kathleen Wynne responded to Brown stepping down by saying all Ontarians are responsible to "shine a light" on harassment and other behaviour.
Wynne gathered reporters in her office shortly before 11 a.m. ET to say Ontarians are "shaken this morning" by what they've heard on the news.
"They are wondering what's happening and exactly what comes next."
Wynne said "everyone has a "responsibility to shine a light on behaviours that are unacceptable.
"It is never OK to harass or assault, to put people in a position where they are victimized. That is never OK."
Asked whether she believes the two women who have come forward, Wynne replied: "I believe victims when they come forward," adding that she was "shocked" to hear the allegations against Brown.
Wynne would not answer political questions, including whether she would push back the date of the election. She did say, however, that she would not call it early.
"There are lots of political questions that are going to come forward. I honestly feel that right now I'm thinking about this in my role as a mother, as a daughter, as a community leader," Wynne said. "It is really, really important that we understand how deeply troubling this is to human beings, to people. This is a human problem."
She would not say whether Brown was still welcome in the Ontario legislature, saying she would let him deal with his own conscience.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday that "all sides of the story will come out," but also said it's "incumbent" on everyone to take the women's allegations seriously.
"I think that women need to be vocal," said Horwath. "We need to change the culture of what happens to women in all walks of life."
She, too, would not speak about how the situation will impact her campaign.
"This isn't about me and my political fortune," said Horwath. "This is about listening to women when they come forward."
Speaking in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, his last day attending the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his thoughts are with the women who have come forward and he "salutes them for their courage."
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman tweeted he was "shocked" to learn of the allegations.
"Everyone deserves the right to be safe and feel safe in our community," he said. "There is no doubt it took great courage for these women to come forward."
Brown denies allegations
Brown stepped down just hours after denying the allegations.
"These allegations are false and have been difficult to hear," he said in a statement issued just before 1:30 a.m. ET.
"However, defeating [Ontario Premier] Kathleen Wynne in 2018 is more important than one individual. For this reason, after consulting with caucus, friends and family I have decided to step down as leader of the Ontario PC Party. I will remain on as an MPP while I definitively clear my name from these false allegations."
Brown called his initial news conference late Wednesday evening to respond to allegations made in the CTV report.
"I want to say: These allegations are false. Every one of them," Brown said while standing alone at a podium at Queen's Park. "I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all the means at my disposal.
"I know that the court of public opinion moves fast. I have instructed my attorneys to ensure that these allegations are addressed where they should be: in a court of law."
Barrie police said late Thursday morning that the force is not currently investigating any allegations against Brown.
"In the event that a complaint comes forward, the Barrie Police Service will ensure that all measures are taken to ensure a frank and impartial investigation," spokesperson Nicole Rodgers said in a statement provided to CBC News.
"The Barrie Police Service takes all allegations of sexual assault and intimate partner violence very seriously and when reported they are investigated thoroughly and comprehensively."