The race to find a new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party was thrown into further chaos after former leader Patrick Brown filed papers to join the leadership race.
The move came on the same day that interim leader Vic Fidelli announced Brown would no longer be welcome in caucus.
Brown’s name was added to the candidates list on the Elections Ontario website with 30 minutes to go before the deadline to register expired.
Brown’s decision to join the leadership race sets up a showdown with Fidelli, who has indicated that he would not sign Brown’s nomination papers if the allegations of sexual misconduct against him still stood at the time of the spring provincial election.
In recent days, Brown has stepped up his campaign to defend himself against sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him by two women.
The accusations caused Brown to abruptly announce his resignation in late January, however, he has since said that the resignation announcement was sent out on his behalf without his permission.
So far, four people — former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, Toronto lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford and social conservative advocate Tanya Granic Allen – have thrown their hats into the leadership ring ahead of Friday’s deadline.
Brown defeated Elliott to become PC leader in 2015.
Caroline Mulroney says Brown’s decision is a “distraction,” adding she is “disappointed” in his decision.
“The determination of who is suitable to be a candidate in this leadership race is up to LEOC,” she tweeted out Friday as the news broke. “As I’ve said before, Patrick Brown made the right decision to step down. A leadership election is not the place for him to try to clear his name.”
“Our focus should remain squarely on beating Kathleen Wynne in less than 100 days. This is a distraction from that and I am disappointed.”
Doug Ford issued a statement, also calling Brown’s decision a “distraction,” saying the PC party is “objectively stronger without Patrick Brown.”
“The rot that was identified by out interim leader is real and serious,” he said in a statement issued Friday.
“As Patrick Brown said on the night he tenured his resignation to caucus, defeating Kathleen Wynne should be our only objective. Patrick Brown should focus on clearing his name. The Ontario PC Party needs to focus on defeating the Wynne Liberals in June. The Ontario PC Party is about more than one person.”
Christine Elliott issued a tweet that did not mention Brown by name, saying “now is a time for unity. I am the leader that can unite the party and beat Kathleen Wynne.”