Patrick Brown says his sudden disqualification from the race to lead the Conservative Party of Canada is based on a “phantom allegation” of wrongdoing that is being used as an excuse to ensure Pierre Poilievre’s victory.
The attack further sours what has been an extremely nasty and divisive leadership campaign, and threatens to damage the party’s credibility at a time when it is looking to unify ahead of the next election after three straight losses, experts say.
Late Tuesday night, the leadership election organizing committee (LEOC) announced it had voted to disqualify the Brampton, Ont., mayor, based on what its chair Ian Brodie said were “serious allegations of wrongdoing” related to an apparent violation of the Canada Elections Act. The party did not provide further details.
“All we heard from our campaign was there was an anonymous allegation of someone who was being paid to work on my campaign by a company,” Brown told Global News in an interview Wednesday.
“We asked for the name of the company. We asked for the name of the person. They wouldn’t divulge that information. And so we had no ability to respond to a flimsy, phantom allegation.”
A source close to the leadership committee told Global News the allegation involves numbered companies in Brampton paying Brown’s campaign staff, which would violate the Elections Act. Brown responded that was more information than what he or his campaign had.
Party spokesperson Yaroslav Baran told Global News there have been multiple allegations levelled against the Brown campaign. He said the party reached out “in good faith” and provided opportunities to respond, which the campaign did not take.
“There’s no way that the party would be able to continue with a candidate with a cloud of potential transgressions of federal law,” Baran said. He declined to provide details on those allegations, citing a potential investigation by Elections Canada.
Late Wednesday, Brown’s campaign filed an appeal of his disqualification, despite the fact that party rules state LEOC decisions “are final and not subject to internal appeals or judicial review.”
Brown went further in the interview to accuse the party of colluding with Poilievre’s campaign to ensure the Ottawa-area MP’s victory in the race, which Brown alleged was becoming less assured thanks to his membership numbers.
“We’re calling this out for what it is: This is Pierre Poilievre’s campaign not wanting a fair election,” he said. “They want a coronation. And I don’t think that’s good for Canadian democracy.”
Poilievre’s campaign denied any involvement in either the allegation or the disqualification, accusing Brown of trying to “make himself into a victim.”
“As it currently stands, the only people who know the true extent of what caused Patrick’s disqualification are Patrick and the (leadership election organizing committee),” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Poilievre, long considered to be the frontrunner in the race, has traded attacks with Brown since the early days of the campaign. Most recently, Brown’s team accused the Poilievre camp of using misleading emails to drum up membership sales, which Poilievre has denied.
Brown’s removal leaves Poilievre leading a thinning field that still includes former Quebec premier Jean Charest, Conservative MPs Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison, and Roman Baber, a former Independent member of the Ontario legislature.
A statement from Charest’s campaign — considered Poilievre’s closest rival — said Brown’s removal and the allegations against him were “deeply troubling” and called for transparency from the party.
“Party members deserve the truth,” the statement said.
Conservative political strategist Tim Powers said in an interview that the party may be damaged if it continues to withhold information from the public.
“I do think the Conservative Party has to publicly share the information that it has, or it will lose credibility,” he said. “I don’t doubt the decision, but I think they should paint a picture of what led them to come to this decision and why.”
Former Conservative communications director Cory Hann said for Brown to be disqualified — particularly given the timing, his strong support and the potential to finish in the top three — means the allegation was likely serious enough, and the party’s decision was not taken lightly.
But he agreed more transparency is needed from both sides.
“I think it would be incumbent on everyone in this situation to maybe detail what they knew a little bit more,” he told Global News. “That includes the Patrick Brown campaign. That includes the LEOC.
“I understand there will be a difference of opinion within LEOC on how much they should and shouldn’t disclose, but I would argue, as I often did during my time there, that sunlight is the best disinfectant in this case.”
Political experts say Brown’s disqualification will benefit not only Poilievre but also Charest, who stands to earn support from more moderate members swayed to the party by Brown.
Both Charest and Brown have positioned themselves as more progressive Conservatives that stood a better chance of uniting the party and winning the next election by attracting voters who may be put off by Poilievre’s aggressive, right-of-centre approach.
Yet Poilievre has proven to be popular with grassroots voters and claims to have secured more than 300,000 new members, which would be unheard of for any previous leadership candidate.
With Brown gone, the race will further centre into a face-off between Poilievre and Charest.
“To the extent that there’s going to be an ‘anybody but Pierre Poilievre’ campaign, this would seem to suggest that (those) people are going to rally around Charest,” said Andrew McDougall, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
While Brown won’t be allowed in the race, his name will appear on the final ballot as the party has already sent many out in the mail.
Last week, the party said about 675,000 members have signed up to vote for a new leader of the Conservatives. The party described this as an unprecedented number for any federal political party.
The party will announce the winner of the race on Sept. 10.
Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s political science department, said the mess surrounding Brown and other allegations leveled in this and previous leadership contests could compel the party to rethink how it chooses its leaders.
“We could go back to the system that existed until about 40, 50 years ago, and that is, you let the caucus members decide who their leader is,” he said in an interview.
“Right now, there isn’t much incentive to work under the rules of the party. Because what is the party? The party is all these instant members who haven’t had anything to do with the party.”
Brown said the more than 150,000 members his campaign claims to have signed up have been disenfranchised.
“We felt we were going to win this leadership,” he said.
— with files from Global’s Abigail Bimman, Kyle Benning and the Canadian Press
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