Party source says Patrick Brown must undergo Ontario Tories vetting only because he was stripped of his riding nomination

Patrick Brown and other contenders may have declared their candidacy for the Ontario Conservatives’ leadership, but most won’t find out until whether they’ve passed the party’s candidate vetting and be allowed to run — another unique feature of an already unusual contest.

Brown, however, could have avoided the whole nerve-wracking process if the leader had not removed him as a candidate in his riding, a senior party said Tuesday.

Brown shocked the Ontario political world by entering the race for leader, a post he quit last month in the face of sexual-misconduct allegations he vigorously denies.

Vic Fedeli, the interim party chief, announced earlier Friday he had thrown the MPP from the Conservative caucus, then on Tuesday revealed that he had also recommended that Brown be removed as candidate in Simcoe North.

Fedeli refused to say why he had taken the action — except that he had “lost confidence” in the member — but the consequences are clear.

Rules for the leadership election require that contenders become candidates for MPP, and also pass the vetting required of those candidates, if they haven’t already before joining the race. As an approved candidate for re-election in Simcoe North, Brown would have been exempt from the assessment, said the party , who asked not to be named.

Not so now.

Ontario PC Interim Leader Vic Fedeli addresses the media at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday February 20, 2018.

“He’s no longer a nominated candidate in his riding. That’s the only reason he’s going through this process,” said the official. “If his nomination hadn’t been taken away by the interim leader” he wouldn’t need to be screened.

The vetting has become a burning issue for Brown and his supporters, who predict a grassroots uprising if he is rejected as a leadership contestant. Loyalists planned a rally outside Conservative headquarters during his screening interview Tuesday evening.

The decision to strip Brown of the riding nomination – and its impact on his leadership bid – is just one more example of how he has been deprived of due process, charged Alise Mills, a spokeswoman for his campaign.

The assessment, including checks as well as the interview, is designed partly to determine if would-be candidates would themselves “become the story” because of something they did in the past.

“You cannot be a candidate for us and be a sideshow. You’ve got to be able to stay on message and make sure the party stays on message and gets the platform out,” said the source. “If every time you walk into the room you suck up all the oxygen, you’re not an asset, you’re a liability.”

Lawyer Caroline Mulroney has already been nominated in a riding and vetted.

Businessman Doug Ford and ex-MPP Christine Elliott underwent interviews by the provincial nominations committee early Tuesday. Parents’ advocate Tanya Granic Allen was up later in the day, with Brown set for 7:30 p.m.

The committee is scheduled to make its vetting decisions Wednesday, the source said.

As well as the interviews, the party does various background checks.

The requirement that the leadership hopefuls MPP candidate screening appears to be a first, the official said.

“In the past, anyone with the money and the signatures, 18 years of age and older, could run,” said the source. “We always wondered ‘Why do we put more scrutiny into our candidates than the leader of the party?’ We’re the first party anywhere in Canada to actually address that.”

Still, now that the committee is putting “personalities and careers and lives through that process,” there is some “unease,” admitted the official.

Meanwhile, Mills confirmed that Brown will now have to vie for his riding’s nomination again.

(Story modified to add comment from Brown’s campaign.)

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