February 22, 2018 12:24 pm
Updated: February 22, 2018 9:53 pm

Chorus of voices raise questions about Patrick Brown’s fitness to run as Ontario PC leader

WATCH ABOVE: Alan Carter speaks one-on-one with Caroline Mulroney after she called for Patrick Brown to drop out of the Ontario PC Party leadership race.

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TORONTO — Patrick Brown avoided the public spotlight Thursday, choosing not to respond directly to a chorus of voices inside and outside the Progressive Conservative party that raised concerns about his fitness to run for the Tories’ top job.

Brown, whose attempt to run for the party leadership was greenlight a day earlier, has been under a cloud of sexual misconduct and mismanagement allegations, all of which he vehemently denies.

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The 39-year-old Barrie, Ont., politician was not present at the legislature on Thursday, where he now sits as an independent after being turfed from Tory caucus last week. He indicated through a spokeswoman, however, that party members will be the ones who have the final say next month on who helms the Progressive Conservatives.

READ MORE: Ontario PC leadership hopeful Caroline Mulroney raised over $461,000 in nine days

“The (provincial nominations committee) and party members have decided that Patrick is credible and a more than worthy candidate to run for the leadership,” spokeswoman Alise Mills said. “It should always be the membership that we look to, not one individual or individuals, to guide our party.”

Ontario’s Tories have been scrambling ever since Brown’s abrupt resignation in January amid sexual misconduct allegations triggered a leadership race. Brown launched a bid to reclaim his post last week, saying he’d been urged on by support from grassroots members.

But one of his competitors called Thursday for Brown to bow out, saying the leadership contest, which comes months before a spring election, was not the place for Brown to clear his name.

READ MORE: Ontarians trust PCs with key election issues: Ipsos poll

“This is a leadership race for the future of our party and Patrick Brown needs to step aside,” Caroline Mulroney said in a statement. “He needs to put the party above himself.”

Mulroney, a Toronto lawyer and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, called on her fellow competitors — former legislator Christine Elliott, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford and parental rights advocate Tanya Granic Allen — to join her call for Brown to drop out.

Elliott issued a statement calling for party unity, saying her focus was on winning the leadership and defeating the governing Liberals in the general election.

But Tory legislator Todd Smith, who is co-chair of Elliott’s campaign, said he thought Brown has made a mistake jumping into the race.

“Given all of the allegations that are out there now, I’ll be honest, I was a bit surprised that the branch of the executive made the decision yesterday to allow (Brown) into the race,” he said. “However, I think the membership is going to be the judge and jury here.”

WATCH: Patrick Brown calls Randy Hillier’s complaint ‘garbage’

Smith said he doesn’t think Brown will win the race because “there’s been too much damage” to his reputation.

Since resigning as leader in January, Brown has been accused of exaggerating membership numbers after an internal audit found the party has about 67,000 fewer members than the 200,000 Brown had previously taken credit for.

He has also been dogged by accusations of mismanagement and corruption, which have led one Tory legislator, Randy Hillier, to file a complaint with Ontario’s integrity commissioner. Hillier alleged Brown “engaged in dirty and crooked politics,” and asked the commissioner to investigate the former leader’s travel and finances.

READ MORE: Patrick Brown’s Ontario PC Party leadership bid approved

Brown responded to Hillier’s allegations Thursday, sharing a copy on social media of a two-page letter to the integrity commissioner that called the accusations “entirely fictional” and a “crass attempt to spin the legal as illegal.”

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Hillier, a legislator who claims to represent hard-working taxpayers, has opted to usurp the resources of a taxpayer-funded institution such as the Office of the Integrity Commissioner to fight an internal party leadership race,” Brown wrote.

Meanwhile, the Liberals called Brown’s participation in the leadership race “troubling,” adding that it reflects poorly on politicians of all stripes in the province.

“It says a lot about the party that they would turn their back on the women who have come forward with very serious allegations,” Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said of the sexual misconduct allegations Brown faces. “Let’s be clear, Patrick Brown has not cleared his name. Those allegations remain.”

READ MORE: Former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown says he grew the party, so he should lead it

The allegations from two women, reported by CTV News, have not been verified by The Canadian Press.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Tories are focused inward and it reflects poorly on the party as a whole.

“They are not showing themselves to be ready to govern,” she said. “They’re not fit to govern their own party by the looks of things. Certainly, they won’t be able to govern here in Ontario.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives will begin voting for their next leader online on March 2. The winner of the race will be announced March. 10.

 

 

 

 

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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