Patrick Brown is calling for Ontario’s electoral watchdog to oversee the process for nominating candidates amid intense scrutiny over races that took place during his leadership of the Progressive Conservative party.
“In retrospect, I am increasingly of the opinion political parties are ill equipped to handle nominations and that it is time to have Elections Ontario manage this part of our democratic process,” he said in an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star on Wednesday.
Mr. Brown also defended his legacy, and challenged his successor’s assertion that he had left the PC Party with a “mess.” The infighting comes just two weeks before the June 7 provincial election.
Last weekend, Doug Ford, who became Leader of the PC Party in March, told reporters that any questions about the “mess” he had inherited should be directed to Mr. Brown, who resigned in January amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr. Brown denies those allegations.
Mr. Ford has come under pressure in recent days to investigate revelations that a number of local nomination races may have been marred by electoral interference. A recent Globe and Mail investigation found allegations of ballot-box stuffing, ineligible voters and fake party memberships under Mr. Brown’s leadership.
As well, Elections Ontario is reviewing whether any PC candidates used stolen personal data to further their campaigns in response to a complaint from the New Democrats.
The review was prompted by the resignation of PC candidate Simmer Sandhu last week, after his former employer, the company that operates the 407 toll highway, reported an “internal theft” of 60,000 customers’ names and addresses. Mr. Sandhu denied the allegations. Snover Dhillon, a businessman convicted of fraud and deemed persona non grata by federal Conservatives, has told other media he worked for Mr. Sandhu but did nothing wrong.
The Globe asked the three main parties if they would have Elections Ontario oversee the candidate-nomination process. As things stand, these races are not managed by federal or provincial electoral watchdogs. A spokeswoman for the Liberals said they would “introduce legislation to strengthen the enforcement and investigative powers of Elections Ontario, including the oversight of nomination meetings.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she would “look at” any recommendations made by Elections Ontario.
The PC Party did not respond to questions about Elections Ontario overseeing the candidate-nomination process.
Mr. Brown asserts in his opinion piece that Mr. Ford is “very much mistaken” in saying he inherited a mess. On the contrary, he said, the party has a “great” slate of candidates that includes the most women and visible minorities in its history and the “most money ever” in its coffers.
“We were well on our way to recreating the Big Blue Machine of the Bill Davis era,” Mr. Brown said, referring to the former Tory premier who ruled Ontario for 14 years.
He acknowledges that many of the nomination races were controversial – the PC Party overturned six of them after he resigned. But he blamed the problems on the large number of people who wanted to run under the Tory banner.
“We were not prepared as a party for the lengths people would go to win nominations,” he wrote. “We had to shut down attempts to print fake ballots, produce fake IDs, stop fistfights and even the stuffing of ballot boxes.”
The Globe investigation found that senior party officials repeatedly ignored concerns brought to their attention about the problematic nomination races.
Mr. Dhillon played an influential role in many of the disputed nominations, The Globe found. It is not clear how many candidates he worked for.
Mr. Dhillon held an invitation-only barbecue last summer in Brampton that Mr. Brown attended. The photographs of 11 current candidates appear on a poster for the event.
Five candidates said Mr. Dhillon did not work on their campaigns. They are Stephen Crawford (Oakville), Parm Gill (Milton), Jane McKenna (Burlington), Kaleed Rasheed (Mississauga East-Cooksville) and Sheref Sabawy (Mississauga-Erin Mills).
The remaining candidates have not returned The Globe’s requests, namely Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria (Brampton South), Amarjot Sandhu (Brampton West), Sarah Mallo (Beaches-East York), Nina Tangri (Mississauga-Streetsville), Rudy Cuzzetto (Mississauga-Lakeshore) and Harjit Jaswal (Brampton Centre).
With a report from Justin Giovannetti