By retreating into a cone of silence over the specific allegations that led to Patrick Brown’s disqualification, Conservative Party brass stand to delegitimize the whole leadership process.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on July 11, 2022.
OTTAWA—Patrick Brown has just suffered his second political assassination.
The first was at the hands of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario, when he was dumped from his leader’s job based on allegations of sexual impropriety, which he denies.
In that first instance, Brown claimed he was the victim of a “fabricated political assassination.”
The story led to a late-night emergency meeting of the provincial party executive and a quick decision to dump Brown as leader.
The network stood by its story, but in the end, issued a correction saying that certain aspects of the story were “factually incorrect and required correction.”
The correction came four years after the career-ending story, just before Brown joined the current federal party leadership race.
History repeated itself last week as, right in the middle of a leadership race, the Conservative Party of Canada turfed Brown, alleging serious but secret breaches of Election Act financing rules by the Brown team.
After announcing the expulsion, the party went mum, explaining that as the matter is under further investigation, there will be no additional official comments on the specifics of the allegations.
Buried in the entrails of the allegations was a ruling by the party that Brown’s campaign had not and would not receive a copy of the interim membership list, as a result of the firing.
Why is that relevant?
Well, the only political game in town over the next two months is an opportunity to switch voters who have already registered.
The persuasion campaign will be undertaken by all the candidates, but it is believed the top two candidates in voter sales were frontrunner Pierre Poilievre followed by Brown.
I was told by a Tory insider that Poilievre outsold former Quebec premier Jean Charest 11 to one in Quebec.
But the difference between Brown and Poilievre sales is less evident.
So, if the party has airtight information on election breaches, why not publish it and let the voters decide?
By retreating into a cone of silence, the brass stands to delegitimize the whole process.
Brown thinks there is more to this than an alleged violation.
His lawyer fired off a letter to the party, requesting it safeguard all communications, including those with the Poilievre campaign, that are pertinent to the allegations.
“Please take immediate steps to ensure that all documents and records of any kind whatsoever including emails, text messages, WhatsApp messages, and any other forms of electronic communication concerning the disqualification and the process leading to it are preserved …. advising all members of LEOC [Leadership Election Organizing Committee] to retain all of their communication with members of the Pierre Poilievre campaign and other stakeholders in relation to Patrick Brown,” the letter said.
Brown retained the firm of Henein Hutchison, which is no slouch when it comes to high-profile legal proceedings. Marie Henein was the lawyer who successfully defended Jian Ghomeshi against sexual assault charges.
Toronto Life magazine dubbed Henein “the fixer,” saying she was the most sought-after defence lawyer in Toronto.
In Brown’s case, there are no criminal charges as yet, but there is certainly a case pending, with huge political implications, that will garner the attention of the whole country.
This is one controversy the Conservative Party does not need. Just recently, long-term former senator and staunch Conservative Marjory LeBreton gave a candid television interview in which she feared that Conservative leadership candidates jumping on the “grievance brigade” would fracture the party irreparably.
LeBreton said she feared the union of the Progressive Conservatives and the Reformers, orchestrated by Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper in 2003, may not survive this leadership change.
Those ominous reflections occurred even before Brown’s expulsion from the race.
One can only assume that the cleavage between the former Progressive Conservatives and Reformers will only grow as a result of last week’s bizarre firing.
Multiple senior Conservatives came out publicly to demand more transparency regarding the decision
Strategist Tim Powers said the party could be damaged if it continues to withhold information from the public.
Ballots for the September vote were sent out before Brown was removed, which means his name will remain as a leadership choice.
That seems strange, because if the party was investigating allegations, it could have delayed striking the ballots until the investigation was concluded.
Instead, the ballot is going to include an ineligible candidate on the progressive side, instead of clearing the field for a fight between Poilievre and Charest. And that can only benefit Poilievre.
On the surface, it certainly looks as though the party fix is in.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.