Ontario’s Opposition leader has stepped down from his party position, mere hours after denying allegations of sexual misconduct, calling them “categorically untrue.” The accusations and resignation leave the Progressive Conservative (PC) party leaderless and in turmoil, with a provincial election scheduled for June 7.
Patrick Brown, elected PC leader back in May 2015, held an unexpected news conference at around 9:00 PM Wednesday night denying all allegations after he learned of them a few hours before.
“I want to say: these allegations are false. Every one of them,” Brown said in his brief camera appearance, “I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all the means at my disposal.”
Just before 1:30 AM, Brown issued another statement:
“These allegations are false and have been difficult to hear. However, defeating [Ontario 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 an MPP while I definitively clear my name from these false allegations.”
A separate statement from PC deputy leaders Sylvia Jones and Steve Clark was released shortly after Brown’s announcement, agreeing that he could not continue as their party’s leader.
“Mr. Brown is entitled to a legal defense and due process, but he cannot lead us into an election as a result of these allegations,” the statement read.
It began with a CTV News report detailing two women’s experiences with Brown throughout his career. One was still in high school when she says Brown, a well-known Barrie politician at the time, asked her to perform oral sex on him. The other, a university student who worked in his office during his tenure as a federal Conservative MP, alleges Brown sexually assaulted her following an event she helped organize. Both women told CTV News that the events happened inside Brown’s home in Barrie, Ontario, after the women had been drinking in his presence and he was sober.
CTV News is protecting the identities of the women.
The first incident occurred more than 10 years ago. The high school student and a mutual friend met Brown at a bar, where he invited them back to his home. He provided them with alcohol despite them being underage at the time. She claims she was drunk when Brown offered her a tour of his home. When they entered his bedroom, he exposed himself and asked her to perform oral sex, which she did for a short time before stopping.
“He pulled down his pants, and I don’t know if he said ‘suck my dick’ or ‘put this in your mouth,’ but something along those lines,” the woman said. “It was like a controlling thing...like I just remember I wanted to go, but that wasn’t happening.” She then left his house and went to a nearby friend’s place. “He’s an old, single politician preying on young girls. He’s just a sad person,” the now 29-year-old said.
The second incident occurred when Brown was working for then-prime minister Stephen Harper. She met the then-Conservative MP in November 2012 on a plane when she was 18, coming home from university. After the flight, Brown sent the woman a message on Facebook, giving her his phone number and the names of Barrie bars that he’d be at that night. He offered her help to skip any lineups and join him, even though she was under Ontario’s legal drinking age.
She didn’t meet with him that night, but reached out to Brown when she was looking for summer jobs. After an interview in his Parliament Hill office, Brown hired her to work in his Barrie constituency office. He tasked her with organizing the Hockey Night in Barrie charity game he hosts annually. CTV News reviewed email records to confirm the work, along with a comment he made to the woman days before the August 2013 event:
“You know you are my favourite :)” Brown wrote.
After the event, the woman consumed many alcoholic drinks at an afterparty in a now-closed nightclub. Once the bar closed, the party moved to Brown’s home where she drunkenly agreed to look at photographs of a trip to Asia in his bedroom. There, he attempted sexual activity with her.
“The next thing I know he’s kissing me. Sitting beside me, kissing me and then I was, I kind of just froze up. He continued to kiss me and he laid me down on the bed and got on top of me. I remember consciously trying not to move my mouth and I was just not moving, so I was laying there immobile and he kept kissing me,” she said. “I felt it was sexual. I could feel his erection on my legs when he was on top of me so I felt that it would have gone to sexual intercourse if I had not done anything. I would characterize that as a sexual assault.”
She continued to work for Brown after the incident because she didn’t want to let it “impede on what I saw then as a career opportunity,” but constantly endured sexual and inappropriate comments from him. He even went so far as to press her to join him as his assistant on one of his many trips to India, promising all expenses would be paid. She refused. The woman told CTV news that she was choosing to speak out now to support other women who have had similar experiences.
“I don’t think that any woman young or old should be subjected to that and put in a situation where they have to decide between the career opportunity that’s in front of them and being--taking themselves out of a situation that’s at best uncomfortable and at worst, unsafe.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court. Despite that fact, moments after his initial news conference, several of Brown’s top staffers, including his campaign manager, chief of staff and deputy manager announced their resignations.
“Earlier today, all three of us became aware of allegations about Patrick Brown,” all three said in a joint statement. “After speaking with him, our advice was that he should resign as PC Party leader.” Brown’s press secretary also resigned and called for him to step down immediately. A slew of other politicians added their agreement, Conservative and otherwise, until Brown gave in and resigned overnight.
Unfortunately for the PC party, Brown had actually been leading in the polls. Many Ontario residents are frustrated with current Premier Kathleen Wynne and want change, but this latest development may very well turn the tide.
Of course, there will be those who believe this to be a scheme concocted by Wynne’s team to win the election. But the reports are credible. Multiple news organizations have investigated numerous claims, and have confirmed enough to substantiate these women’s claims.
There has been some debate on social media about people being forced out over unproven allegations. Yes, this is true, nothing has been proven in court against Brown. In fact, it’s Brown who has taken up with lawyers to defend himself against these claims. But I think Andrea Horwath, Ontario’s NDP leader, made the most profound statement on the matter. She is the furthest thing from an impartial judge, but she did draw a useful distinction from the situation.
“He deserves his day in court, but no person can lead a political party in this province with allegations like these hanging over his head,” she wrote. Everyone deserves their day in court, but leading a political party is not a right. So with his own caucus demanding his resignation, Brown had no choice but to step down. You can’t lead a party that doesn’t want you to be its leader.
There is no formal mechanism for replacing party leaders through a simple and quick vote of their parliamentary caucus. Party members cannot depose leaders on short notice, and as such, cannot elect leaders quickly either. The executives of the PC party are holding a meeting Thursday evening, with a full party debrief come Friday. There is already a flurry of activity over who might become Brown’s replacement, but seeing as how Brown was an unlikely candidate to begin with, who knows how things will go.
With the election looming, perception is everything. Although Wynne has record-low approval ratings, having a leader tied up in court over sexual misconduct allegations may very well be the downfall of the opposition party.