Conservative MPs are expressing shock and disappointment after learning about sexual misconduct allegations levelled against former caucus colleague Patrick Brown, who resigned as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party early Thursday morning after two young women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances after plying them with liquor.
In an interview with The Hill Times, Conservative MP Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.) praised the young women accusing Mr. Brown for having the courage to publicly come forward, saying it “sends a strong, strong message that these kinds of things have to change.”
Mr. Brown, 39, who spent nine years as a Conservative backbench MP, resigned as leader of the Ontario PCs at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, hours after CTV News reported that two young women had stepped forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct—including events allegedly occurring while he was a federal politician.
Fifteen minutes before the report aired on CTV National News, Mr. Brown held a hastily called news conference at Queen’s Park in which he denied every allegation, calling them “categorically untrue,” and refused to step down. Six of his closest advisers, including his chief of staff and campaign manager, immediately announced their resignations, saying he refused to heed their advice to resign as party leader immediately.
Shortly after the hectic press appearance, reports began to circulate that Mr. Brown had changed his mind and would quit sometime overnight, with the Ontario PCs releasing a statement confirming his resignation just before 1:30 a.m.
Mr. Brown said he will stay on as an MPP and work with the new interim leader. The Ontario PC caucus is set to meet Friday to decide an interim leader. Before Mr. Brown’s resignation, the PCs were riding high in the polls in advance of the province’s June election, suggesting that Mr. Brown could unseat Liberal Kathleen Wynne as premier.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Regina Qu’Appelle, Sask.), speaking at a press conference closing his party’s caucus meeting in Victoria, B.C., said his party has a “zero tolerance policy” for sexual harassment, pledging to “put everything in place” to ensure that “this type of bad behaviour is eradicated from the political community in Ottawa.” He said he was previously unaware of Mr. Brown’s alleged behaviour.
In a statement released Wednesday night, Mr. Scheer said “sexual misconduct and sexual harassment have no place in Canadian society, especially within our political system,” and called for the allegations against Mr. Brown to be rigorously investigated.
Mr. Scheer served alongside Mr. Brown during all nine years of his time as MP.
Conservative MP John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfil, Ont.), who represents a portion of Mr. Brown’s former federal Barrie riding, issued a similar statement, saying “no woman should ever face harassment in the workplace.”
Speaking to reporters covering party caucus meetings in Victoria on Thursday, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.) offered her personal support to anyone working in federal politics experiencing sexual harassment.
“I want to be very clear that if there’s anybody in our party, or anybody in the Hill or anybody in constituency offices experiencing this issue right now, I want them to know they can come forward to me, and they have an open door,” she said.
When asked, Ms. Raitt didn’t rule out the idea of throwing her hat in the ring to become the next Ontario PC leader. Other names being floated about as possible leadership contenders include MPPs Lisa MacLeod and Vic Fedeli as well as former MPP Christine Elliott, who ran against Mr. Brown in the last leadership campaign, and star candidate Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.) tweeted her encouragement for Ms. Mulroney to consider running, noting, in part, that “She’s articulated a vision, knows how government works, has a killer CV.”
Conservative MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), who also served with Mr. Brown in Ottawa, wrote on Twitter that he was “sickened and disheartened by the events which led to Patrick Brown’s resignation.”
“My heart goes out to the women affected. Due process is important but also the future of the province. The Ontario PC Party will go on, under a new leader, to present a compelling vision,” wrote Mr. Clement, himself a former Ontario PC MPP and provincial cabinet minister.
In an interview with The Hill Times, Conservative Senator and party Senate caucus whip Don Plett (Landmark, Man.) said the allegations against Mr. Brown “need to be taken seriously,” though noted that at this stage, they are only accusations, with “nothing proven in court.”
According to the CTV News report, one of the women to have come forward with allegations was still in high school when she said Mr. Brown asked her to perform oral sex on him, more than 10 years ago. The other, a university student who worked in his constituency office, alleges Mr. Brown kissed her, laid her down on his bed, and got on top of her in 2013, following an event she helped organize.
Both events are alleged to have occurred inside Mr. Brown’s Barrie, Ont. home, after the women had been drinking in his presence. The women each told CTV News that Mr. Brown was not drinking alcohol at the time of the alleged incidents.
The former staffer, who returned to work for Mr. Brown the following summer, said he had also made inappropriate comments to her while driving the then-federal MP around. The woman, who was tasked with driving Mr. Brown to and from events, told CTV News that he talked about a woman he had sexual relations with, and about wanting to find an older version of her to marry.
Mr. Brown has not been charged in relation to these allegations and they have not been proven in court.
Mr. Brown first ran for the federal seat of Barrie in 2004, losing to Liberal incumbent Aileen Carroll. He defeated Ms. Carroll in 2006, becoming an MP at 27 years old, and was re-elected in 2008 and 2011.
Before he departed federal politics in 2014, he chaired the party’s Greater Toronto Area caucus and the Canada-India Parliamentary Association.
As Ontario PC leader, Mr. Brown brought to Toronto staffers who had worked for the federal Conservatives. For example, Mr. Brown’s now-resigned chief of staff Alykhan Velshi had worked in Conservative Stephen Harper’s Prime Minister’s Office between 2011 and 2014 and was a top adviser for former cabinet minister Jason Kenney.
Also today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) put out a statement saying he accepted the resignation from cabinet of Kent Hehr (Calgary Centre, Alta.), his minister of sport and persons with disabilities, “pending the outcome of the investigation” into allegations of sexual misconduct, after an Alberta public servant (he’s a former member of the Alberta legislative assembly) said he made women feel “unsafe” and and made sexually suggestive comments, including at one point saying “you’re yummy.” Mr. Trudeau said that “during his leave of absence,” Science Minister Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Ont.) will take on his ministerial duties.
Mr. Trudeau, speaking to reporters this morning while attending the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, said “it’s extremely important that we make absolutely clear that sexual harassment and sexual assault is unacceptable. We take these allegations extremely seriously whenever they come up.”
Yesterday, Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie was forced to resign after his party launched a third-party investigation and received the investigator’s report into a sexual harassment claim against him.
—With files from Peter Mazereeuw
The Hill Times
Campaign manager Andrew Boddington: Strategist for Kevin O’Leary’s 2017 federal Conservative Party leadership campaign
Chief of staff Alykhan Velshi: Director of issues management and parliamentary affairs, PMO, 2013-14; director of strategic planning and stakeholder relations, PMO, 2011-13; senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 2008 and 2011 campaigns; director of communications and parliamentary affairs for immigration minister Jason Kenney, 2007-08 and 2008-11; director of parliamentary affairs for environment minister John Baird, 2008
Deputy campaign manager Dan Robertson: Director of advertising for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2011 campaign
Press secretary Nick Bergamini: Press secretary to finance minister Joe Oliver, 2014-15; Press secretary to veterans affairs minister Julian Fantino, 2014
Strategist Ken Boessenkool: Senior policy adviser to opposition leader Stephen Harper, 2002-04
Deputy campaign manager Joshua Workman: Campaign manager for CPC candidate Mike Menear, 2002; special assistant to Kellie Leitch, 2004-05; campaign co-chair for CPC candidate Bev Shipley, 2006 and 2008