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Watchdog probing allegations against disqualified Patrick Brown as ballots arrive

Allegations came from a whistleblower within ousted Conservative leadership candidate’s own campaign
Patrick Brown takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The Commissioner of Canada Elections has confirmed it is reviewing information related to the campaign of the disqualified Conservative leadership candidate’s alleged breach of financing rules.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Canada’s elections commissioner is reviewing information related to the campaign of disqualified Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown’s alleged breach of financing rules,just as the first ballots to vote in the party’s contest have begun appearing in mailboxes.

A spokesperson for the federal watchdog confirmed Thursday that the office has received information related to Brown’s sudden ousting from the race, but — citing privacy — wouldn’t divulge the nature or details of what it received.

The allegations came from a whistleblower within his own campaign and, according to sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, included documents and text messages.

Since Tuesday evening, when members on its leadership election organizing committee voted to remove Brown in a vote split of 11-6, the party has been seized with the fallout.

Their decision was made based on what committee chairman Ian Brodie defined as “serious allegations of wrongdoing,” and on the recommendation from its chief returning officer.

Brown has not left the race quietly.

He has since hired high-profile lawyer Marie Henein as his legal counsel, who requested the party and those involved in deciding to remove him prepare for anticipated legal action, and has maintained that his campaign did nothing wrong.

Brown contends the party withheld specific details of the allegations facing him, leading to what he says were difficult circumstances to respond properly.

Despite his name being scrubbed from the party’s candidate list, his name will still appear on ballots, the first batch of which the party confirms was recently put in the mail.

With a staggering 670,000 members signed up to vote for the next Conservative leader – a figure Tories say is record-breaking for any federal political party – at least two campaigns, one of which being Brown’s, have voiced concerns about the timing around when the party is sending them out.

“It is curious that ballots have gone out before the membership list has been finalized. It means campaigns have less than a week to persuade certain members before turning to (get out the vote),” wrote Michelle Coates Mather, the director of communications for Jean Charest’s leadership campaign.

“That said, we are still confident in our ability to get out our vote - regardless of when ballots are received, all verified members will have their votes counted.”

Mail-in ballots are due no later than Sept. 6 for the party to unveil its next leader Sept.10.

The party’s thinking behind the staggering is to begin with members whose information they have already verified, and then send remaining ones to newer members once the verification process is complete, as campaigns were provided the opportunity to challenge those new sign-ups.

Every campaign except for Brown’s– which was withheld for alleged violations – was given a preliminary voter list, and the party must finalize the voter list no later than July 29.

Another factor for the party is considering is the capacity for Canada Post to handle that many thousands of ballots in the mail.

John Mykytyshyn, Brown’s campaign manager, told The Canadian Press that he previously voiced concerns with how party headquarters planned to send the mail-in ballots out in batches beginning with those who are pre-existing members to be followed by those who are new.

“To do it based on how long you’ve been a member … certain candidates have an advantage among the existing membership. That’s an unfair advantage,” he said, but declined to name names.

“Certain members have been given favourites status, with more time with a ballot to flow that will provide the photocopy of whatever government ID they’re using, and then mail it back to the party.”

Both Brown and Charest focused their campaigns on signing up as many new members as they could to the party, with Brown himself saying he felt his main rival, longtime Ottawa MP Pierre Poilievre, was more popular with those who are already in the party.

Brown says he signed up more than 150,000 new members, while Poilievre’s team says it recorded a whopping 312,000 memberships through his campaign website.

Mykytyshyn argued that someone getting a ballot earlier has a “distinct advantage” because they not only have more time to fill it out, but to seek help if they so need it, adding there is no guarantee how long it takes for a ballot to travel in the mail, which could affect whether it arrives by the deadline.

In response to the complaint from Brown’s team, party spokesman Yaroslav Baran wrote: “You’re kidding, right? Seriously? The voting deadline is September 6.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor and Marie Danielle-Smith, The Canadian Press