Brown campaign says he plans to vote for Charest, accepts anyone but Poilievre

·5 min read

OTTAWA — Patrick Brown's campaign says there's a "strong likelihood" Brown's efforts to challenge the federal Conservatives' decision to disqualify him from the leadership race won't succeed and that he will vote for Jean Charest to lead the party.

Tuesday evening, the campaign team shared a statement with media it planned to send to supporters after a call the previous night Brown had with more than 100 organizers and others helping his bid.

The campaign says Brown continues to pursue "all legal options" to appeal the party's decision to boot him from the race — but for the first time admitted that likely won't happen before party members are set to pick a new leader Sept.10.

It says Brown has been clear: he would support any leader except longtime MP Pierre Poilievre, who had been his main rival.

His campaign says that Brown plans to vote for Charest. He has encouraged supporters to make their own choice about which of the five remaining candidates would make the best leader.

Brown's campaign says he also considers Leslyn Lewis "a friend" and applauded Scott Aitchison for policy positions on fighting a controversial secularism law in Quebec, which Brown also opposes.

"Killing our campaign does not kill the vision we have for the party," read the note to supporters.

"We will succeed eventually."

His campaign's message to supporters comes after John Reynolds, a former MP who had served as a co-chair on Brown's campaign, came out and endorsed Charest .

But whether Brown's supporters — many of whom appear new to the party — choose to follow suit isn't necessarily that clear-cut.

"It's all going to come down to how much work (Brown) and his organizers want to continue to put in this race," said political strategist Chris Chapin, who previously worked in Brown's office when he was Official Opposition leader in Ontario.

In a statement circulated by Charest's campaign, Reynolds said the ex-Quebec premier was the best choice to unite the party when its divisions within caucus and the broader movement are on full display.

"We have had too much negative publicity lately, so we need to offer Canadians a positive, unified and inclusive Conservative party with a new, time-tested leader," Reynolds said.

Reynolds didn't mention Brown by name or the disqualified candidate’s planned appeal.

But since Brown's sudden dismissal a week ago, the situation has consumed the attention of the party's top brass, along with many members and some organizers on other campaigns.

The chair of the committee that voted in favour of kicking Brown out of the race said it did so on a recommendation from the party's chief returning officer, based on an allegation that Brown may have violated federal election laws.

A longtime organizer has since come forward as the one who made the allegation, saying Brown was involved in an arrangement that saw a private corporation pay for her work on the campaign.

Since his disqualification, Brown has stated his team did nothing wrong and accused the party of refusing to provide the full details of the incident when first asked to provide an explanation. He has also hired high-profile lawyer Marie Henein to seek an appeal.

But unless Brown is reinstated, what happens to the supporters he signed up as new party members is one of the major outstanding questions in the race.

His campaign said it sold 150,000 memberships, although party headquarters hasn't validated that figure or any others publicized by the five remaining campaigns.

By comparison, longtime MP Pierre Poilievre has said he sold a whopping 312,000 memberships.

Brown's name will still appear on the final ballot, which the party will use to pick a leader by asking members to rank the candidates from their first to last choice.

That means supporters could still pick Brown as their top choice and so the party is finalizing a plan to share with members about what will happen to votes that may go his way.

At a news conference earlier Tuesday in Brampton, Ont., where he has yet to disclose if he plans to seek a second term as mayor, Brown swatted away questions about his federal campaign. He said the issue rests with his legal counsel.

Brown's strategy in the race had been trying to recruit new members to the party, rather than trying to court favour with existing ones — who, he mused, were more likely to back Poilievre and his populist message.

He aimed to sign up thousands of immigrants and newcomers by promising to build a more inclusive party. He pitched himself as an ally on specific issues of interest to them, from improving cricket infrastructure to reforming the immigration system.

How much of Brown’s vote goes to Charest will depend on whether Brown and his campaign team work to persuade supporters to switch their allegiance to the former Quebec premier, said Chapin.

"These members signed up for Patrick," he said.

Because Brown ran a campaign that often appeared at odds with some party positions — delisting the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist entity, for example — Chapin said it's going to be difficult to cajole supporters to back a different candidate who didn't make such pledges.

Party spokesman Yaroslav Baran said as of Tuesday, more than 280,000 ballots had been delivered, with another large batch scheduled to be dropped in the mail by the end of the week.

Although headquarters hasn't confirmed specific membership sales from each campaign, it has recorded a voting base of more than 670,000 members, more than double what it had for the 2020 leadership race.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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