The fate of former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown‘s political career is stirring debate among those vying to replace him.
In the first debate of the Tory leadership race, two of the candidates — former Tory legislator Christine Elliott and Toronto lawyer Caroline Mulroney — say Brown should be allowed to run in the provincial election if he manages to clear his name.
Former Toronto councillor Doug Ford says he would wait to get all the facts before making a decision, while social conservative advocate Tanya Granic Allen says she wouldn’t allow Brown to run, though she stressed it was not because of the sexual misconduct allegations that triggered his resignation.
Brown stepped down in late January after CTV News published allegations from two women, which he has categorically denied. Brown now says he will sue the network for publishing what he alleges are false accusations.
Brown’s legacy was also questioned in Thursday’s debate as both Ford and Granic Allen said they are open to changing the platform put out under their predecessor.
All four candidates have also opposed a key plank and revenue stream in the platform — a carbon tax that would replace the cap-and-trade system established by the governing Liberals.
Each vowed Thursday to cut waste to make up for the lost revenue.
WATCH: Who is running for Ontario PC Leadership: A look at the candidates
Elliott, meanwhile, says she is the most experienced candidate, while Mulroney argues she is the fresh face the party needs to oust the governing Liberals.
The Progressive Conservatives were thrown into turmoil last month after Brown resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations he vehemently denies.
VIDEO: Christine Elliott says if Brown can clear his name, he can run for Ontario PCs
The first debate of the leadership contest is being hosted by TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster.
Political observers say the stakes are highest for Mulroney, a rookie politician and relative unknown who must prove she can discuss policy and hold her own against more experienced and forceful rivals.