Sudden fall of Ontario’s top Tory
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.