Patrick Brown is withdrawing from the race for leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives less than two weeks after entering the contest to reclaim his former job.
Brown’s stunning announcement Monday is just the latest dramatic turn in the battle for future of the Ontario PCs.
Brown was forced to resign as leader late January amid accusations of sexual misconduct by two women dating back to when he was a federal MP.
In a four-page statement posted on Twitter, he outlined three reasons why he was quitting the race:
- To focus on his libel case against CTV.
- To allow his party to focus on defeating Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.
- To protect his family and friends.
Brown said part of his decision to withdraw from the leadership race was due to what he said was a collaboration between his political enemies and “the media.”
“They are no longer targeting me. They are targeting my friends and family. I can take a punch but it stings when it is unfairly directed at the people I love instead of me,” he said. “Lifelong friends were subjected to attacks as soon as I entered the leadership race. Shots were fired indiscriminately against anyone associated with me – friends within the Party, business colleagues in Barrie, great people who worked with me at Queen’s Park. They didn’t sign up for this.”
Earlier Monday, campaign spokesperson Alise Mills denied reports Brown had stepped down but confirmed he and his family had been “forced to endure attacks on their character, malicious gossip and threats.”
“This is not news but something that’s very painful for the family and for Patrick,” Mills tweeted.
Brown’s mother was admitted to hospital Sunday night, two sources told Global News, with what one source described as a stress-induced episode due to recent events. She is now recovering at home.
“It’s very stressful on the family,” said a third source. “Polling was good, fundraising was good, money was coming in.”
Interim PC Leader Vic Fedeli thanked Brown for making the “right decision for himself and the Ontario PC Party.”
“He is right to focus on clearing his name,” Fedeli said in a statement.
WATCH: Patrick Brown withdraws from Ontario PC Party leadership race. Shallima Maharaj reports.
Brown’s withdrawal comes just days before the final all-candidates’ debate in Ottawa on Wednesday night. Former MPP Christine Elliott, former Toronto councillor Doug Ford, Toronto lawyer Caroline Mulroney and social conservative activist Tanya Granic Allen are the four remaining leadership candidates.
Mulroney recently called for Brown to withdraw from the race and responded to the news that he had done so shortly after the announcement was made.
“Now more than ever, we need to move forward without these distractions. Patrick has done the right thing,” she wrote.
Elliott and Granic Allen also reacted to Brown’s announcement on Twitter.
“Now more than ever, we must unite our party. My focus remains squarely on Kathleen Wynne and I hope you will join us,” Elliott said.
“My focus is on Wynne and I will hold her to account in the same manner,” Granic Allen wrote, adding that she raised issues about Brown recently.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Liberal Party issued a statement containing a series of concerns over when PC Party officials knew of the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against Brown in January as well as other issues raised in recent media reports.
Brown’s withdrawal follows an announcement by Hamilton police who confirmed they have launched a fraud investigation in connection with a PC candidate nomination in June 2017.
The Toronto Star reported Monday that Brown personally directed top party officials to “get me the result I want” in the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas nomination contest.
Ontario’s political landscape was shaken when Brown resigned as leader late last month hours after CTV aired a report detailing the allegations of sexual misconduct. Brown has vehemently denied the allegations and has filed a libel notice against the network which has said it will defend its journalism in court.
Brown has called the allegations against him “absolute lies” and claimed they were instigated by his “political adversaries” either inside or outside his party.
“I believe this was initiated for political purposes,” Brown told Global News in an hour-long interview before he entered the leadership race. “I have a number of political adversaries and so there’s a number of people who would benefit from what happened and I hope that in the course of the investigation we’ll be able to expose who was involved in this.”
Then on Feb. 16 — the same day he was booted from caucus by Fedeli — Brown registered to reclaim his old job less than an hour before the 5 p.m. deadline. He became the fifth candidate alongside Elliott, Mulroney, Ford and Granic Allen.
Brown has faced questions over how he could afford a $1.72-million mortgage on a Lake Simcoe property on a salary of $180,000 as party leader.
The province’s integrity commissioner announced it is conducting an inquiry after MPP Randy Hillier launched a complaint last week about the property and also raised questions regarding overseas trips Brown took – including one involving an intern who accompanied him.
Brown called Hillier’s allegations “either entirely fictional, constituting defamatory baseless allegations … or statements of fact that are both true and perfectly acceptable.” He said all trips were paid for by the PC party.
“It is also important to understand, that in my position as MPP and leader of the Official Opposition I am required by law to file information regarding my personal finances and business dealings with the Integrity Commissioner,” Brown said in a statement on Facebook. “I have always been in full compliance and that information is available for you to view online.”
Hillier’s complaint also referred to a Globe and Mail report alleging that PC candidate Jass Johal signed a legal document agreeing to pay $375,000 for Brown’s share of a Barrie restaurant called Hooligan’s and to buy two million of his Aeroplan miles.
“I decided not to proceed with the transaction, as I was simply not ready to give up my shares in the restaurant,” Brown said in his response. “The transaction never happened.”
Internal polling of eligible PC voters obtained by Global News showed Brown ahead of Elliott, with Ford in third place, followed by Mulroney, and Granic Allen in fifth. A poll of the broader electorate showed Brown and Elliott tied.
Despite the turmoil inside the PCs, polling has shown the Tories are still very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to the upcoming provincial election.
The PCs would receive 38 per cent of the vote if an election were held tomorrow, according to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News.
Voting for the Ontario PC race is scheduled to take place from March 2 to 8, with the results announced on March 10.
— With files from Carolyn Jarvis and Nick Westoll