Patrick Brown debacle means candidates will get more intense screening, parties say

This week, the Liberals, NDP and PCs all alluded to changes in the internal party vetting process for potential candidates, following another tumultuous week in Ontario politics just over 3 months before the June 7 provincial vote.

'You're not going to change politics simply by having a longer questionnaire,' political scientist says

The allegations swirling around Patrick Brown at Queen's Park have prompted parties to strengthen their vetting processes, officials with the NDP and the Liberals have told CBC News. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

The major political parties in Ontario are united on precious little heading into the 2018 provincial election, except that in light of the political drama starring Patrick Brown, the scrutiny candidates go through needs to be ratcheted up.

This week, officials with the Liberals and NDP spoke to CBC News about changes in internal party vetting processes for potential candidates, following another tumultuous week in Ontario politics just over three months before the June 7 provincial vote. The Progressive Conservatives would not reveal any details about their screening methods, but at least one leadership candidate says she'll "look into all the processes in place."

Brown, who resigned as PC leader following sexual misconduct allegations (accusations he denies), now faces an investigation into his personal finances by Ontario's integrity commissioner, as he fights to win back his job as Tory boss.

"We've had some legal advice around are there things that we can do to tighten up our process to make sure that we can be confident in our vetting process," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The Ontario NDP said in a statement it has added two pages to its personal disclosure questionnaire for potential candidates. People looking to run for the New Democrats will now be asked to disclose if they've ever engaged in a list of behaviours, including harassment, abuse of power and sexual misconduct, said provincial secretary Karla Webber-Gallagher.

"Our candidate vetting process has always been strong, but in light of recent events in another party, we chose to make the disclosure requirements of New Democratic candidates and potential candidates even more specific," Webber-Gallagher said.

Liberal MPP Deb Matthews, who is the party's campaign co-chair, said Thursday following Question Period that "recent events" have prompted the Liberals to change their vetting processes.

"We've introduced new measures this round. We do extensive vetting already," she said.

In a statement from a spokesperson for the Ontario Liberals, the party would only say, "when allegations emerged against Patrick Brown it was prudent to go back and review our process within this context," though they didn't elaborate on those changes.

When asked what measures the PCs are taking to strengthen the screening process for candidates, a party official told CBC News it does not comment on internal matters. 

Caroline Mulroney says she will look into the way the PC party screens its candidates, if she's elected leader. (CBC)

But at the launch of Caroline Mulroney's campaign tour on Friday, the PC leadership hopeful said she would examine the party's vetting process if elected leader.

"There are a lot of questions that are asked. There's a long stack of documents that need to be submitted. That's a very detailed question. I'd have to look at all of that, but rest assured when I'm leader, I will look into all the processes in place, and make sure they are fair and transparent," Mulroney said.

'Ultimately, it's up to voters,' political scientist says 

University of Toronto political scientist Erin Tolley says it is a good start to have the conversation about weeding out specific behaviour, but she said "vetting isn't bulletproof no matter how you do it."

"It's up to candidates, one, to be honest about [inappropriate behaviour], but, two, also have the same definition of what inappropriate behaviour is ... so ultimately, it's up to voters to decide who it is they want to represent them," she said.

Political parties across North America have implemented new vetting processes following the watershed #MeToo movement, which encourages women to come forward with stories of sexual harassment. 

"You're not going to change politics simply by having a longer questionnaire for candidates," said Tolley. "You're going to change it by changing norms and saying to candidates, 'This is what we're willing to accept in candidates and these are the types of behaviours we are not willing to accept,' and that's something different."

In the June 7 provincial election there will be 124 electoral districts. Currently, the NDP has 46 nominated candidates, the Liberals have 63, and the PCs have the most at 69.


Chris Glover

CBC News Reporter

Chris Glover has been a reporter, anchor and producer with CBC News for a decade. He’s an award winning storyteller, who has travelled the country in search of fascinating characters with compelling stories to share on TV, radio and online. A series he helped spearhead at CBC Toronto, No Fixed Address, won a national RTDNA award in 2017 and the municipal election special he anchored in 2018 was just nominated for an RTDNA award for best live special.