Sud­den fall of On­tario’s top Tory

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE -

The calls started go­ing out around 8 p.m. on Wed­nes­day. On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive of­fi­cials de­liv­ered a vague warn­ing to their mem­bers of the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture: Some­thing ma­jor would be hap­pen­ing that night in­volv­ing their leader, Patrick Brown.

Clearly, it wasn’t go­ing to be good news. But the brief calls gave lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of the ex­plo­sive events that were to fol­low.

In­ter­views with three party in­sid­ers, speaking on con­di­tion of anonymity, re­vealed that Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers of pro­vin­cial par­lia­ment largely learned about the sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions at the same time the rest of the pub­lic did: First on Twit­ter, then dur­ing Brown’s soli­tary news con­fer­ence at 9:45 p.m., and fi­nally in full de­tail on the CTV Na­tional News broad­cast at 10 p.m.

It is be­lieved the 39-yearold leader first heard the spe­cific al­le­ga­tions around 5 p.m., when CTV ap­proached his of­fice for com­ment.

The al­le­ga­tions came from two women who said Brown had pro­vided them with al­co­hol in his Bar­rie, Ont., home and ag­gres­sively propo­si­tioned them. One of the women was still in high school when the in­ci­dent al­legedly oc­curred, and the other women de­scribed it as sex­ual as­sault.

The al­le­ga­tions, which all took place be­fore Brown be­came On­tario PC leader in the spring of 2015, have not been proven in court and Brown has called them “cat­e­gor­i­cally un­true.”

Brown spent much of Wed­nes­day evening holed up with his se­nior staff in his Toronto con­do­minium, just a few min­utes away from Queen’s Park near the cor­ner of Bay and Bloor streets.

Some of his aides later said they had urged him to re­sign. In­stead, Brown held a hastily an­nounced 9:45 p.m. news con­fer­ence at Queen’s Park to de­fend him­self. On the verge of tears, stand­ing alone at the podium with his hair un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally askew, Brown read a state­ment that barely lasted a minute.

“In short, I re­ject these ac­cu­sa­tions in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms, it’s not my val­ues, it’s not how I was raised, it’s not who I am,” he con­cluded, and then walked out of the room.

On live tele­vi­sion, re­porters chased him through the leg­is­la­ture’s hall­way and down two flights of stairs, shout­ing ques­tions that he re­fused to an­swer ex­cept to say: “I’ll be at work to­mor­row.”

By all ac­counts, the PC MPPs were as­ton­ished and dis­mayed by Brown’s per­for­mance. Around the same time, a state­ment landed in their in­box that said Brown’s chief of staff, Alykhan Velshi, cam­paign man­ager Andrew Bod­ding­ton and deputy cam­paign man­ager for strat­egy Dan Robertson were re­sign­ing en masse, fol­low­ing Brown’s re­jec­tion of their ad­vice that he step down.

Three more res­ig­na­tions would fol­low, in­clud­ing Nick Bergamini’s, Brown’s press sec­re­tary who had ac­com­pa­nied him to the news con­fer­ence. But some se­nior staff stayed, in­clud­ing Ta­mara MacGre­gor (his deputy chief of staff, who has been with Brown since the start of his lead­er­ship cam­paign) and Re­becca Thomp­son (his di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions).

This is when the party cau­cus de­cided to take mat­ters into their own hands.

Us­ing their in­ter­nal email list, the 29 MPPs quickly or­ga­nized a con­fer­ence call that be­gan just after 10:30 p.m. and would last for an hour. Brown joined the call at the start (though not ev­ery­one re­al­ized that, and at least one per­son said it came as a sur­prise when Brown first spoke up about 15 min­utes in).

The cau­cus was united and firm: Brown could not stay on as leader. There was no way they could go into an elec­tion with Brown fac­ing al­le­ga­tions like these. The con­ver­sa­tion soon be­came about tim­ing the an­nounce­ment, not the res­ig­na­tion it­self. But Brown wanted to at least think about it overnight.

The call broke off around 11:30 p.m., and Brown took some time to talk it over with his close ad­vis­ers — those who hadn’t al­ready re­signed.

When the sec­ond con­fer­ence call started shortly after mid­night, MPPs held firm. The call lasted roughly a half-hour. At 1:24 a.m., the On­tario PC Twit­ter ac­count posted a link to a res­ig­na­tion state­ment from Brown.

“These al­le­ga­tions are false and have been dif­fi­cult to hear,” it said. “How­ever, de­feat­ing (Lib­eral Premier) Kath­leen Wynne in 2018 is more im­por­tant than one in­di­vid­ual. For this rea­son, after con­sult­ing with cau­cus, friends and fam­ily I have de­cided to step down as leader of the On­tario PC party. I will re­main on as a MPP while I defini­tively clear my name from these false al­le­ga­tions.”

After the mid­dle-of-the-night res­ig­na­tion, the On­tario PCs woke up on Thurs­day lead­er­less. The party’s deputy lead­ers, Steve Clark and Sylvia Jones, ad­dressed the me­dia at noon and said the cau­cus would meet Fri­day morn­ing to de­cide on an in­terim leader.

They were un­able to say whether this would be the per­son who leads them into the next pro­vin­cial elec­tion, sched­uled for June 7 — less than five months away.

Clark was asked how the MPPs had man­aged to change Brown’s mind in the span of four hours after his de­fi­ant news con­fer­ence, but he re­fused to get into de­tails.

“The de­ci­sion we came to was unan­i­mous, that we sup­ported the leader mak­ing his an­nounce­ment last night,” he said. “We have to move for­ward, he has to deal with the al­le­ga­tions be­fore him.”

WE HAVE TO MOVE FOR­WARD, HE HAS TO DEAL WITH THE AL­LE­GA­TIONS BE­FORE HIM.

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