Conservative leadership hopeful Patrick Brown takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Patrick Brown fights back after being barred from Conservative leadership race

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Questions are swirling among Conservative members as to why Patrick Brown was disqualified from running in the party’s leadership race.

Ian Brodie, chair of the leadership election organizing committee, announced the stunning move late Tuesday night, saying the party had learned of “serious allegations of wrongdoing” by the Brown campaign. It voted that evening to disqualify him.

The allegations are related to the financing rules in the Canada Elections Act, Brodie said in a written statement, but provided no further details.

The Toronto Sun published Wednesday morning that Brown said in an interview he was kicked out “over an anonymous allegation that an organizer was being paid by a private company to campaign for him.”

His campaign, which is consulting its legal team, has said the party did not provide the full details of allegations facing him, and has gone on to accuse the Tories of giving Brown the boot to advantage his main opponent, longtime area MP Pierre Poilievre.

“This is reprehensible, undemocratic behaviour that breaks faith with hundreds of thousands of Canadians that embraced Patrick Brown’s vision of a modern, inclusive Conservative party,” his campaign said in a written statement early Wednesday morning.

“This is an indictment of the (Conservative Party of Canada), and a party that is not serious about winning a general election,” the Brown campaign continued. “It is an embarrassment. But, not for us.”

Poilievre’s campaign released its own statement Wednesday saying Brown is lashing out at the party and 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).”

Concerns were first raised with Brown’s campaign last week.

In his statement issued after the vote to disqualify him, Brodie said the chief returning officer for the party informed Brown, who is the mayor of Brampton, Ont., of the concerns and requested a written response. He also decided to withhold the interim membership list from his campaign.

Brodie said the response from Brown’s campaign did not satisfy the concerns and the chief returning officer recommended the leadership election organizing committee remove him from the race.

Brodie said the party will be sharing what it has with Elections Canada.

He said both he and the party’s chief returning officer did their best to be fair to Brown, who is a former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, and provide time to refute the allegations.

“None of these problems has any impact on the integrity of the vote itself,” Brodie said.

“While we felt it important to provide a transparent response to party members about this matter, because this issue is now subject to further investigation, we will not be speaking further on the subject.”

The Brown campaign disputed this characterization of the process.

“This decision is based on anonymous allegations. Our campaign was never provided with the full details or evidence of these allegations, failing an even basic requirement of due process,” said its statement.

It accused the party of going on a “fishing expedition” and not giving the campaign “ample time” to respond, but said it “still complied with every bizarre request and unsubstantiated claim.” It also said the campaign learned of the disqualification, and the meeting where the decision was made, through the media on Tuesday night.

“The attempt to silence Canadians and skirt democratic values through this unfounded disqualification is the only way to ensure his victory was secured,” the statement said.

The Conservatives will announce the winner of the leadership race in Ottawa on Sept. 10.

The other candidates in the race are Conservative MPs Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison, as well as former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Roman Baber, a former Independent member of the Ontario legislature.

Charest’s campaign has said it finds the move to remove Brown from the race “deeply troubling,” and called for more information to be provided on the allegations themselves.

A spokesman for the party said Tuesday night that a large batch of ballot packages have already been sent to members 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 eligible voting base in 2020, when Erin O’Toole was elected leader, was about 270,000 members. At the beginning of this year, the party said it had 161,000 active and current members across Canada. About 48,000 of those were scheduled to expire by the membership deadline in June.