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Politics Three weeks later, Patrick Brown launches bid to reclaim job as Ontario PC leader

Ontario PC leadership candidate Patrick Brown takes to the stage to address supporters in Mississauga, Ont., on Feb. 18, 2018.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Three weeks ago, Patrick Brown faced the cameras alone, shaken and in tears, with his resignation imminent.

On Sunday, the former leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party – and current candidate in the race to replace himself – stood at a small podium bearing his name, flanked by his two sisters and 18 PC candidates running in the looming provincial election. On the floor was a crowd far above the small room's capacity, brandishing signs and often wild with cheers.

When one candidate called him the party's "former leader" during his introduction, another stepped forward and grabbed the microphone. "Our existing leader!" he yelled.

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The crowded room erupted in screams of joy.

As Mr. Brown began to speak, he was interrupted. "My leader," someone yelled. Moments later came a chant of "People's Guarantee," the name Mr. Brown gave to his platform for the general election when he still led the party. They supported him during his hardest moment, as he told them about the allegations he's faced and the steps he's taken to clear his name. His entourage yelled encouragements: They trusted him, not the accusers. People in the room nodded and cheered more.

At an Ontario PC leadership rally Sunday, Patrick Brown touted how the party grew when he was leader, saying exact numbers aren’t important. Interim leader Vic Fedeli has said the party has 67,000 fewer members than what Brown claimed. The Canadian Press

Mr. Brown told the crowd he is ready to take back the job he resigned from only three weeks ago under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations. The 39-year-old old said he should lead Ontario's official opposition into a June election and denied allegations of sexual misconduct brought forward by two young women in late January. He also lashed out at the media for reporting the story that threw the PC Party in chaos.

"To be vilified without due process is absolutely gutting. To be shunned as an outcast from the party that I love over fabricated news reports, it hit me like a ton of bricks," said the Barrie-area politician.

Before the allegations surfaced against Mr. Brown, polls showed he was likely to unseat Premier Kathleen Wynne in June.

In the weeks since Mr. Brown resigned from the job he had held for nearly three years, the interim leader of Ontario's PC Party has reported that membership numbers were inflated under Mr. Brown, declared that "rot" had been allowed to grow in the party and called new nomination races amid allegations of ballot stuffing under the former leader. On Friday, Mr. Brown was expelled from his party's caucus and will have to sit in Ontario's legislature as an independent.

Mr. Brown said that his name had been cleared of the allegations first reported by CTV News. "My sole focus over the past three weeks has been to clear my name and I'm grateful that that's been accomplished," he said.

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Many of the supporters present on Sunday echoed the former leader's contention that the allegations against him had been disproved.

"I think that given what we've seen over these past few weeks, given the qualifications we have seen to these allegations, I certainly have no hesitation supporting Patrick Brown," said Ross Romano, the MPP for Sault-Ste-Marie, who was present at the campaign launch with more than a dozen candidates supporting Mr. Brown.

While he is now in the leadership race, the party has yet to sign off on his candidacy and he still needs to be vetted.

After allegations of sexual misconduct were aired against Mr. Brown, he began waging a campaign on social media and in select interviews to rehabilitate his image. He accused CTV News of fabricating a "malicious and false report" after the network changed a key aspect of its story that aired on the evening of Jan. 24. CTV reported last week 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. No changes were made to the allegations levelled against Mr. Brown by a second woman. CTV said it stands by its reporting.

Mr. Brown said his lawyers are preparing a lawsuit against CTV News and what he dismissed as "sloppy journalism" on Sunday. CTV's spokesman has said the company is prepared to defend its journalism in court.

Toby Barrett, an MPP given a senior position in the party by Mr. Brown, said that "100 per cent of the people" he has spoken with don't believe the allegations against him. "They told me that he got railroaded, he got taken out for political reasons," Mr. Barrett told The Globe.

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Leadership candidate Christine Elliott said Mr. Brown "is closing in" on the goal of clearing his name in response to the allegations of sexual misconduct that he says are falsehoods.

In an interview with CTV's Question Period that aired Sunday, Ms. Elliott repeated her view that if she becomes leader, she would allow Mr. Brown to run as a PC candidate provided that he clears his name.

"Well I think he's already done a lot," she said, when asked to describe the threshold she would expect Mr. Brown to meet. "He has been conducting his own investigation. He's been on television telling his story of what happened. He's taken a lie detector test, so I think he's closing in on what he has to do, but it's not quite finished yet, and we'll see where it ends. It seems to be changing minute by minute so we'll have to see."

Three of the other candidates running for the party leadership – Doug Ford, Tanya Granic Allen and Caroline Mulroney – said they did not support Mr. Brown's entry into the race.

With files from Bill Curry.

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