OTTAWA — The legs under Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s bid for leadership of the federal Conservative party grew shakier Tuesday with the defection of his campaign co-chair to rival Jean Charest.
Hours later, Brown’s remaining team said though they’ll continue to fight their disqualification from the race, if that fails, Brown will also back Charest.
“At the end of the day Jean Charest has the best chance to stop Pierre Poilievre extremism,” the Brown campaign said in an email blast to supporters.
Brown’s remaining campaign co-chair had used gentler language in his midday announcement that he’s now backing Charest, calling him the last candidate standing who can deliver a win.
“There is no doubt in my mind Jean Charest is the unity candidate our party needs,” John Reynolds, a former Conservative MP and party power broker, wrote in a statement announcing his endorsement.
“After watching this campaign unfold, it is clear to me he is now the only leadership candidate that is offering the Conservative party of Canada a forward-looking vision with an electable path to government.”
Charest said in a tweet Tuesday night that those Brown recruited to the party will find a home: “They will find one under my leadership. I will offer them a voice and respect.”
Last week, the party’s leadership race organizing committee made a stunning decision to disqualify Brown in a vote of 11 to six.
The decision was linked to allegations from one of his regional organizers, Debbie Jodoin, that she was being paid by a third party to work on Brown’s campaign.
The party believed such an arrangement would violate elections financing law, and after both sides argued the matter over the Canada Day long weekend, the party decided to put Brown’s candidacy to a vote.
The arrangements, and related documentation, are now before the Commissioner of Canada Elections for investigation.
But even before that allegation came to light, the party was probing what it considered suspicious membership sales on the part of the Brown campaign. That investigation had been escalating as well.
The two sides had been squabbling over the use of money orders to pay for memberships — party rules place restrictions on those — as well as how many people had access to Brown’s online membership sales portal and the memberships they were registering.
And that followed discomfort over Brown’s place in the contest from the beginning.
Brown was forced out as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party over sexual misconduct allegations, which he continues to deny.
He’s also been found in violation of provincial ethics rules for accepting a loan from a would-be PC candidate.
Pressure on the leadership organizing race to red-light his leadership bid came from many sides, with longtime party loyalists arguing that a candidate with his past would never have been allowed to seek the party’s nomination to run as an MP, multiple sources have told the Star.
On the other side of the coin were those who felt Brown’s record was public, and it would be up for party members to decide whether he should be leader — and for rival candidates to make the case he shouldn’t be.
He was ultimately allowed to run.
As the party has pressed the Brown campaign on membership sales and how its staff are being paid, the Brown campaign has maintained it was never provided enough detail from the party to adequately defend against any of the allegations.
In the email sent Tuesday, the Brown campaign blasted the process, saying the party was acting to “protect an old network that had always run things and were bound and determined to continue running things.”
The Brown campaign doesn’t believe the contest rules allow for a disqualification without an appeal and have hired noted defence lawyer Marie Henein as part of an effort to make that case.
“There is a strong likelihood, however, this won’t succeed before the vote,” Brown’s campaign wrote Tuesday.
“If that is the case, Patrick has been clear he would support any new leader of the CPC except Pierre Poilievre. If it comes to that, he will be voting for Jean Charest.”
Reynolds’ decision to walk away was the latest sign of the shambles around Brown.
He had been running Brown’s leadership bid alongside Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner since the early days of the contest.
But she walked away last month to consider a bid for Alberta’s United Conservative Party, a move she’s since backed away from.
Her exit followed the defection of two other MPs who’d been supporting him to rival Poilievre’s camp.
All three left just days after the release of membership sales claims suggesting Poilievre may have twice the number of new sign-ups that Brown did.
Charest and Brown have a long history; Brown once counted him as a political idol and mentor during his early days in politics.
They were counting on a similar pool of supporters to propel at least one of them to victory over Poilievre.
When pressed by reporters in Brampton on Tuesday about whether he will just drop out of the federal race, Brown wouldn’t answer.
He said he’d have more to say about the Conservative race “at a later point,” and when it comes to whether he’ll seek re-election as Brampton mayor, he’s still thinking about it.
The deadline to register for the mayoral race is Aug. 19.
Meanwhile, close to 300,000 ballots for Conservative party leadership are now in the mail to members, with some already on their way back.
The new federal party leader is scheduled to be revealed on Sept. 10.
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