Patrick Brown has jumped into the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race, seeking to win back his old job three weeks after he was forced to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Brown arrived at PC Party headquarters in downtown Toronto on Friday afternoon to fill out his nomination papers, just two hours before the 5 p.m. deadline for contenders to throw their hat in the ring.
"I think my name has been cleared and now it's about getting Ontario back on track," Mr. Brown, flanked by his sisters Stephanie and Fiona Brown, told reporters. "This isn't about me, this isn't about the PC Party. This is about making sure that on June 7 the Progressive Conservative Party is successful."
His announcement capped a dramatic day of developments for the 39-year-old career politician. On Friday morning, Interim Leader Vic Fedeli removed Mr. Brown from the PC caucus, leaving him sitting as an independent member just before the legislature is set to resume on Tuesday.
"Earlier today, Mr. Brown was notified that he has been removed from the PC Caucus effective immediately," Mr. Fedeli said in a tersely worded statement. He did not elaborate.
Mr. Brown's resignation from the helm of the party triggered a leadership race just four months before the provincial election. He joins four other contenders: former Toronto councillor Doug Ford; former Tory MPP Christine Elliott; political newcomer Caroline Mulroney; and Tanya Granic Allen, an activist who opposes Ontario's new sex education curriculum.
Jag Badwal, interim president of the party, said in a statement that Mr. Brown's application will follow the same "due process" as those of the other four declared candidates.
Mr. Brown told reporters the main leadership contenders have been calling him every day, trying to win his support for their campaigns.
"I think the reason they have is that they know that, frankly, there's a groundswell of support in the membership for the project I've been working on," he said, which is to defeat the governing Liberals on June 7. "It changes the race that the party membership wants their party back, they don't want to see it hijacked."
The candidates already in the leadership race said it was a mistake for Mr. Brown to enter the contest. "The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is objectively stronger without Patrick Brown," Mr. Ford said in a statement.
Ms. Mulroney echoed that sentiment: "Our focus should remain squarely on beating Kathleen Wynne in less than 100 days," she said on Twitter. "This is a distraction from that and I am disappointed."
But Mr. Brown's leadership bid was endorsed by one of his former caucus colleagues. Ross Romano, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Sault Ste. Marie, won his seat in a 2017 by-election with the help of a number of visits to the riding by Mr. Brown. "He got knocked down but he got back up again," Mr. Romano said on Twitter. "His fighting spirit is exactly what this province needs."
On Thursday, Mr. Brown attempted to create uncertainty over whether he had even stepped down as leader of the party. In an interview with Global News, he said a statement issued just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 25 announcing his departure was sent out without his permission.
"I understood they were drafting a statement," Mr. Brown said of his staff. "I was shocked it was sent out without even an opportunity to see it."
However, during a conference call with members of the Progressive Conservative caucus on that same morning, Mr. Brown clearly can be heard agreeing to resign, according to a portion of the recording obtained by The Globe and Mail.
"I have asked her to draft a statement that I will resign," Mr. Brown says, referring to Rebecca Thompson, his deputy chief of staff at the time. "She has drafted a statement and she can read it to you."
Mr. Brown was forced to step down after CTV News aired allegations of sexual misconduct with two young women. He began waging a campaign on social media and in select interviews to clear his name last weekend and has accused CTV News of fabricating a "malicious and false report" after the network changed a key aspect of its report that aired on the evening of Jan. 24. CTV reported on Tuesday night that one of the women said she was not under the legal drinking age or in high school during one of the alleged incidents, as originally reported. CTV said it stands by its reporting.
Following the initial CTV report, Tory MPPs were unanimous during a conference call late on Jan. 24 that Mr. Brown had to resign and gave him an ultimatum: either he would put out a statement saying he was stepping down or caucus would issue a statement, according to senior party insiders. Mr. Brown initially resisted, according to the insiders, but when the conference call resumed early on the morning of Jan. 25, Mr. Brown agreed to resign.
Mr. Brown said during the Global News interview that he resisted his colleagues' calls to resign, saying he was of the opinion that he should insist on meeting with members of his caucus in person.
"I don't know what I would have done the next day," he said during the interview. "I wanted an opportunity to tell my side of the story … and frankly, I wasn't able to rely on my team."
During the recording of the conference call obtained by The Globe, Mr. Brown described the "false allegations" reported by CTV as "character assassination." However, he said, he did not want anything to stand in the way of the PC Party's "mission to defeat [Premier] Kathleen Wynne" in the provincial election in June. To that end, he said, he asked Ms. Thompson to draft a statement saying "I will resign."
Mr. Brown could not be reached for comment for this story and has not agreed to earlier requests for an interview with The Globe and Mail.