The divisions within the race to lead the Conservative Party of Canada were blown open even wider Wednesday, as Patrick Brown fought back against his disqualification, alleging those controlling the election did so to advantage his main opponent.
Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., spent the morning doing media interviews after the leadership election organizing committee voted to disqualify him based on what its chair said were “serious allegations of wrongdoing.”
Ian Brodie said in a statement following the vote that the allegations are related to an apparent breach of the financing rules in the Canada Elections Act, and has so far declined to provide more details.
The Toronto Sun published Wednesday morning that Brown said in an interview he was kicked out “over an anonymous allegation that an organizer was being paid by a private company to campaign for him.”
Speaking later to CTV, Brown elaborated further, saying his campaign wasn’t provided the full details behind the allegation, and he denied his team did anything wrong.
In a statement issued after Tuesday’s vote, Brown accused the party brass of giving him the boot to benefit the chances of his main rival, long-time Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre.
“This is reprehensible, undemocratic behaviour that breaks faith with hundreds of thousands of Canadians that embraced Patrick Brown’s vision of a modern, inclusive Conservative party,” his campaign said in a written statement.
“This is an indictment of the (Conservative Party of Canada), and a party that is not serious about winning a general election,” the Brown campaign continued. “It is an embarrassment. But, not for us.”
Poilievre’s campaign released its own statement Wednesday saying Brown is lashing out at the party and trying to “make himself into a victim.”
“As it currently stands, the only people who know the true extent of what caused Patrick’s disqualification are Patrick and the (leadership election organizing committee).”
Brown also finds himself in hot water with his critics within Brampton City Hall, with five council members planning to hold a news conference in the afternoon, saying in a statement that “once again, our great city is in the national news for all the wrong reasons because of Patrick Brown.”
Concerns about his campaign financing were first raised with Brown’s team last week.
In his statement issued after the vote to disqualify him, Brodie said the chief returning officer for the party informed Brown of the concerns and requested a written response. He also decided to withhold the interim membership list from his campaign.
Brodie said the response from Brown’s campaign did not satisfy the concerns and the chief returning officer recommended the leadership election organizing committee remove him from the race.
Brodie said the party will be sharing what it has with Elections Canada.
He said both he and the party’s chief returning officer did their best to be fair to Brown, who is a former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, and provide time to refute the allegations.
“None of these problems has any impact on the integrity of the vote itself,” Brodie said.
“While we felt it important to provide a transparent response to party members about this matter, because this issue is now subject to further investigation, we will not be speaking further on the subject.”
The Brown campaign disputed this characterization of the process.
It accused the party of going on a “fishing expedition” and not giving the campaign “ample time” to respond, but said it “still complied with every bizarre request and unsubstantiated claim.” It also said the campaign learned of the disqualification, and the meeting where the decision was made, through the media on Tuesday night.
“The attempt to silence Canadians and skirt democratic values through this unfounded disqualification is the only way to ensure his victory was secured,” the statement said.
The Conservatives will announce the winner of the leadership race in Ottawa on Sept. 10.
The other candidates in the race are Conservative MPs Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison, as well as former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Roman Baber, a former Independent member of the Ontario legislature.
Charest’s campaign has said it finds the move to remove Brown from the race “deeply troubling,” and called for more information to be provided on the allegations themselves.
A spokesman for the party said Tuesday night that a large batch of ballot packages have already been sent to members in the mail.
Last week, the party said about 675,000 members have signed up to vote for a new leader of the Conservatives. The party described this as an unprecedented number for any federal political party.
The eligible voting base in 2020, when Erin O’Toole was elected leader, was about 270,000 members. At the beginning of this year, the party said it had 161,000 active and current members across Canada. About 48,000 of those were scheduled to expire by the membership deadline in June.
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