Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown is stepping down following allegations of sexual misconduct, prompting speculation as to who might replace him as PC leader to take on Kathleen Wynne in June.
Commuters at the Barrie South GO station were glued to the television in the waiting area as the news continued to unfold.
”I think it’s kind of shocking and I think it’s horrible that somebody’s career can be ruined with just a few allegations even if they’re unproven,” said Wayne Hetherington of Penetanguishene.
“It’s shocking,” said another man who was dropping off his wife and declined to give his name. “Why now, four months before the election. That’s the big question,” he said.
The Innisfil couple thinks Doug Ford should step up as leader.
“We talked about it this morning,” the woman said.
“We need somebody popular,” her husband added.
In a stunning and rapid turn of events, Brown first called a late-evening news conference Wednesday at Queens Park to tearfully and 'categorically' deny what he called 'troubling allegations.'
Then in a statement issued early Thursday morning, Brown said he was resigning as Leader of the Ontario PC Party.
“These allegations are false and have been difficult to hear. However, defeating Kathleen Wynne in 2018 is more important than one individual," Brown's statement said.
Brown said that he made the decision to step down as leader after consulting with caucus, friends and family but will remain on as a MPP while he will 'definitively clear my name from these false allegations.'
“Over the past three years I have led a major transformation of our party taking it from 12,000 to 200,000 members, fundraised more money than any provincial party in Canadian history, and recruited some of the most qualified and diverse candidates in the history of our party. I have developed a pragmatic and winning campaign platform after a historically comprehensive policy process," the statement said.
“These important building blocks are essential for defeating Kathleen Wynne this year and her tired government that has repeatedly made reckless decisions and put insiders ahead of the people. I’m confident the president of our party and caucus will convene an expedited process to elect my successor who I look forward to working with.”
The visibly shaken Brown summoned reporters to Queens Park last evening where he read a brief statement.
Brown said he was made aware of the allegations hours earlier, but did not provide details on what those allegations were. He said he would defend himself in the court of law.
"I can't speculate on the motive of my accusers, I can only say that what they are saying is categorically untrue," the 39-year-old politician said.
CTV News reported that two women have come forward with graphic sexual misconduct allegations against Brown that date back to when the Opposition leader was a federal MP. The broadcaster did not name the women, who alleged the incidents happened at Brown's home in Barrie, Ont., after they had been drinking in his presence. Brown was not drinking at the time, the women told CTV News.
Brown's comments were also followed by a flurry of resignations from his top staff members, who said on Twitter they were stepping down over the leader's handling of the situation.
"Earlier today, all three of us became aware of allegations about Patrick Brown. After speaking with him, our advice was that he should resign as PC Party leader. He did not accept that advice," his chief of staff, deputy campaign manager and campaign manager said in a joint statement.
"Since our view is that this advice was in the best interest of the PC Party, we have therefore resigned our positions."
The party's press secretary also announced he was leaving his post.
NDP leader Andrea Horvath called for Brown to step down.
"I'm disgusted and disturbed by these sexual misconduct allegations," Horwath said in a statement. "Patrick Brown must resign, immediately. He deserves his day in court, but no person can lead a political party in this province with allegations like these hanging over his head."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne praised the women who made the allegations, saying on Twitter that it is "a difficult and brave thing to do to come forward in the way these young women have done tonight."
Wynne said her government has made it clear that sexual assault and harassment are not to be tolerated but did not comment on Brown directly.
Provincial and federal Conservatives also denounced sexual misconduct and harassment.
"The allegations against the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives are extremely serious and should be investigated fully," federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement.
Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod, a member of the Ontario legislature, said everyone "has the right to be free from unwelcome behaviour or advances."
Ontario PC deputy leaders Sylvia Jones and Steve Clark later issued a joint statement on the party's website saying they "unanimously agree" that Brown cannot continue as leader. They said while Brown is entitled to due process, "he cannot lead us into an election."
Jones and Clark said the PC caucus would "immediately consult with party officials and members on best way to move forward."
Brown repeatedly denied the allegations against him and said he had instructed his lawyers to ensure that they are addressed in court.
He noted that "it's never OK" for anyone to feel they have been a victim of sexual harassment or feel threatened in any way.
"I reject these accusation in the strongest possible terms," Brown said. "This is not how I'm raised. This is not who I am."
He did not take questions from reporters and left immediately after making his statement.
Brown has been leading in the polls as Ontario heads to a provincial election this summer.