The vetting of Patrick Brown to run for his old job as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives was undermined by the senior official who was to lead the process sitting on the sidelines and the scant opportunity given to others to review briefing materials prepared on him, says Tory MPP Lisa Thompson.
Ken Zeise, vice-chair of the Provincial Nomination Committee, was supposed to drive the process because he had received the briefing materials prepared by party researchers a day in advance, said Ms. Thompson, one of six members of the committee. But that changed at the 11th hour, she said, with Mr. Zeise remaining virtually silent on Tuesday evening, when the committee interviewed Mr. Brown.
"I felt played," Ms. Thompson told The Globe and Mail. "I was disappointed an opportunity to hear answers to very pointed questions was taken away from us."
Ms. Thompson said she and other committee members were shown the materials shortly before the meeting, giving them no opportunity to thoroughly review them.
But just before the meeting began, Mr. Zeise was summoned into the hallway by Mike Richmond, a lawyer and a friend of Mr. Brown's. When Mr. Zeise returned about 15 minutes later, he sat at the back of the room instead of at the table with other members and did not ask any questions, Ms. Thompson said.
Mr. Zeise acknowledged that Mr. Richmond chatted to him in the hallway about a tape of a phone conversation Mr. Richmond had obtained of Mr. Zeise making comments about Mr. Brown. He also said he sat on a table by the window when he returned to the meeting.
Asked if he questioned Mr. Brown about the briefing documents, Mr. Zeise said: "I think not. I think there was a point where I joined a conversation and made a point. Did I take the lead? No."
However, Mr. Zeise said he did not need to "grill" Mr. Brown because it is really up to members of the party to decide who should lead the party. The committee reached a consensus on Wednesday, giving Mr. Brown the go-ahead to run for the leadership, four weeks after he was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Richmond declined to comment when reached by The Globe and Mail on Thursday.
"Unfortunately, our co-chair who was to lead the interview was taken out of play," Ms. Thompson said. "Questions that needed to be asked weren't asked. It was a process at the end of the day that was manipulated, unfortunately."
According to the party's rules, prospective candidates must sit for an interview with the nomination committee, which conducts background checks on them. While the rules stipulate that the committee can alter its criteria for disqualifying any candidate, it is supposed to consider financial issues, social media history, any ethical questions or concerns raised about would-be candidates, as well as their contribution to public life and commitment to the party.
Ms. Thompson said she had time to briefly flip through the briefing documents on Mr. Brown, which she said included records on the waterfront house he purchased on Lake Simcoe's Shanty Bay for $2.3-million, the $1.72-million mortgage on the property and an affidavit for a proposed $375,000 transaction between Mr. Brown and a future PC candidate.
The proposed transaction, first reported by The Globe, is part of a complaint Tory MPP Randy Hillier filed with the province's Integrity Commissioner on Tuesday, the same day Mr. Brown met with the nomination committee.
Under the proposed deal, Mr. Brown was to sell an interest in a restaurant he partly owns and some Aeroplan miles for $375,000 to Jass Johal, a Brampton paralegal who went on to become a Tory candidate.
According to a copy of an affidavit shown to The Globe, Mr. Johal says he agrees to purchase two million Aeroplan miles and an ownership interest in Hooligans restaurant from Mr. Brown. The affidavit is dated June 11, 2016, and signed by Mr. Johal.
Mr. Brown told The Globe in an e-mail that "no deal was ever done." Mr. Johal has not returned several e-mails and phone messages.
Other documents seen by The Globe, including bank statements, show that Mr. Brown deposited $375,000 into his account at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce on July 11, 2016, the same month he purchased the house on Shanty Bay.
When asked about that, Mr. Brown, who earned $180,886 a year as the leader of the Official Opposition, said in the e-mail: "Like many people in Ontario, I received help from my family purchasing my home."
Mr. Brown pledged in an interview on TVO's The Agenda on Thursday that he will be "turning over every stone" to find the political adversaries whose allegations are responsible for his resignation.
Mr. Brown dismissed stories about his personal finances as "alternative facts." When asked how he could afford such an expensive home on his salary, Mr. Brown said that his pay was in excess of his mortgage payments.
Mr. Brown also took to Twitter on Thursday to denounce the allegations made by Mr. Hillier in his complaint to the Integrity Commissioner, calling them "either fictional" or statements that are true and "perfectly acceptable at law."
Mr. Hillier, who is endorsing former Tory MPP Christine Elliott in the leadership race, has questioned whether Mr. Brown has disclosed gifts and other income he might have received. Mr. Brown says on Twitter that he has submitted a private disclosure statement to the Integrity Commissioner.
"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," Mr. Brown said on Twitter.
Interim Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Vic Fedeli says he informed party executives of his lack of confidence in Patrick Brown hours before the ousted PC leader launched a bid to reclaim his job.
The Canadian Press