Michael Taube: The Conservatives Handled the Patrick Brown Controversy in the Proper Fashion

July 18, 2022 Updated: July 18, 2022

Commentary

Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, Ont., was recently disqualified from running in the Conservative Party leadership race. Some party members, including most of his supporters, immediately cried foul at the manner in which he was removed. While the process was far from perfect, the Conservatives actually handled this difficult matter in the proper fashion.

Let’s examine why.

Ian Brodie, chair of the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC), released a statement on July 5. The first two paragraphs state:

“In recent weeks, our Party became aware of serious allegations of wrongdoing by the Patrick Brown campaign that appear to violate the financial provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Following our Rules and Procedures for the 2022 Leadership, the Chief Returning Officer notified the Patrick Brown campaign of the allegations and asked for a written response. He also withheld the interim membership list from the Patrick Brown campaign.

“The information provided to date by the Patrick Brown campaign did not satisfy concerns about their compliance with our Rules and Procedures and/or the Canada Elections Act. The Chief Returning Officer has therefore recommended to LEOC that LEOC disqualify Patrick Brown and earlier tonight LEOC agreed to do so. The Party will be sharing the information it has gathered with Elections Canada, who is responsible for ensuring compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act.”

Brodie also noted he and the Chief Returning Officer “have done our best to be fair” to Brown’s campaign, and provided them “with the time they need to substantively refute these allegations.” He acknowledged “regret having to take these steps,” but felt it was “important to provide a transparent response to Party members about this matter.” With the matter “now subject to further investigation, we will not be speaking further on the subject.”

When Canadians began to learn about Brown’s disqualification, some felt it had been handled poorly. Why was LEOC’s statement sent out late at night? Shouldn’t the party have been more forthright about the specific details pertaining to this decision? Who was the source of these allegations, and how was he/she/they involved in this leadership race?

I don’t disagree that LEOC should have sent out the statement at a different time. It would have also been preferable to be more open and transparent from the start. It would have created less confusion for party members, the media, and Canadians.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives surely knew what seems logical to do in theory wasn’t logical to do in this instance.

Brown’s disqualification was a sensitive matter, and had to be treated as such. The allegations were also serious in nature. Anyone found guilty of violating the Canada Elections Act could potentially receive hefty fines and jail time.

That’s what happened to former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro in 2015. He was found guilty of exceeding his spending limit in the 2008 federal election and, in the court’s opinion, attempting to cover it up. He was sentenced to a month in jail, four months of house arrest, 18 months probation, and was barred from running for public office for five years.

Breaking the law is no laughing matter, period.

The possibility of a legal hearing was surely a factor, too. Brown has since hired some powerful advocates to defend him, including one of Canada’s most successful criminal lawyers, Marie Henein. This was done for two reasons: to try to get him back into the leadership race (which is an internal party decision, and unlikely to succeed), and to keep him out of jail (the main purpose of this exercise). From LEOC’s standpoint, the best strategy was to acknowledge what’s happened in a general sense—and tackle the larger details if Brown’s appeal was successful.

Meanwhile, the party’s decision to send the materials to Elections Canada effectively moved the needle to another organization to provide further details and clarity. Handing over sensitive documents automatically shifts responsibility to the proper authority in this matter. The contravention of the Canada Elections Act isn’t something Brodie, LEOC, interim party leader Candice Bergen, or any Conservative should be discussing in public. This also included the whistleblower’s identity, who later revealed herself to be longtime party activist Debbie Jodoin.

For the record, I know Brodie and Brown quite well. In the former’s case, his personal integrity has never been questioned. He wouldn’t risk ruining his reputation if he wasn’t confident something was amiss with Brown’s campaign. The potential pitfalls for removing a leadership candidate aside, he still felt it was best to proceed in this fashion.

It’s easy for Canadians to criticize the tight-lipped approach the Conservatives took to disqualify Brown. But when you take emotion out of the equation and consider what it must have been like to walk in the party’s shoes, you can understand why it was done.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Taube, a longtime newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.