Ontario's Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown has resigned after "categorically" denying what he describes as "troubling allegations" about his conduct and his character.
A visibly emotional Brown said late Wednesday that he was made aware of the allegations hours earlier, but did not provide details on what those allegations are. Hours after telling reporters he would defend himself in the court of law, news emerged that Brown had resigned.
“After consulting with caucus, friends and family I have decided to step down as leader of the Ontario PC Party. I will remain on as a MPP while I definitively clear my name from these false allegations,” he said in a statement issued after 1 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, the Toronto Star reported.
“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 deputy leaders of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Sylvia Jones and Steve Clark, later issued a statement saying that the party's entire caucus agreed that Brown had to go.
“In the interest of the Ontario PC Party we unanimously agree that Mr. Brown cannot continue serving as the Leader," they said in the joint statement.
“Mr. Brown is entitled to a legal defense and due process, but he cannot lead us into an election as a result of these allegations."
They added that they would consult party members and officials before deciding how to proceed, with less than five months to go before the next provincial election in Ontario.
“The Ontario PC Party unequivocally upholds the principle that a safe and respectful society is what we expect and deserve. We need to move forward to eradicate sexual violence and harassment across the province," the statement added.
CTV News tweeted that two women have come forward with graphic sexual misconduct allegations against Brown. The broadcaster said the alleged incidents date back to when Brown was a federal MP.
"These allegations are false. Every one of them," Brown said at a late-night news conference at the legislature.
"I can’t speculate on the motive of my accusers, I can only say that what they are saying is categorically untrue."
EXCLUSIVE: Two women come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown which he denies https://t.co/82k3GxACIs— CTV News (@CTVNews) January 25, 2018
Brown said he has instructed his lawyers to ensure that the allegations are addressed in court.
The outgoing leader of the Opposition 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 accusations 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 the province heads to the polls this summer.
Brown was backbench MP in Harper government
He was first elected as federal MP in 2006 as part of the Conservative government after serving as a Barrie city councillor. He was re-elected twice, once in 2008 and again in 2011.
During his time in Ottawa, Brown served as a backbench MP in former prime minister Stephen Harper's government and has been frequently criticized by political opponents for voting in favour of reopening the abortion debate.
He won the PC leadership in 2015, beating long-time Ontario legislator and favourite Christine Elliott.
Since he has become party leader, Brown has attempted to broaden the appeal of his party, going as far as to say social conservative issues were off-limits at the PC policy convention last fall.
Brown says he is pro-choice and more recently has led Pride parade delegations.
Allegations triggered a wave of resignations in Brown's inner circle
The allegations triggered a wave of resignations in Brown's inner circle, starting with three senior aides who said the Tory leader had ignored their advice for him to step down.
"Earlier today, all three of us became aware of allegations about Patrick Brown," said the statement released by campaign manager Andrew Boddington, chief of staff Alykhan Velshi and deputy campaign manager Dan Robertson. "After speaking with him, our advice was that he should resign as PC Party leader. He did not accept that advice.
"Since our view is that this advice was in the best interest of the PC Party, we have therefore resigned our positions as, respectively, Campaign Manager, Chief of Staff, and Deputy Campaign Manager (Strategy)."
Caroline Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative candidate in the upcoming election, added that the public should also listen to women who survive cases of misconduct.
"We are living in a powerful moment where women and girls across Ontario, across Canada, and around the world are ending their silence — and their stories of sexual harassment are being heard," she said in a statement posted on Twitter. "This is a sad day. Women are facing yet another story of harassment. We have heard too many of them. But women across Ontario will continue fighting together. We are working to build a world where no woman has to say 'me too' again."
This evening I learned of allegations against Patrick Brown. As a result, it is in the best interest of the PC Party that he step down immediately.— Nick Bergamini (@nickbergamini) January 25, 2018
As he has chosen to follow a different route, I am resigning as the PC Party Press Secretary.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne reacted with a carefully-worded statement that denounced inappropriate behaviour without directly singling out any perpetrator.
"It's a difficult and brave thing to do to come forward in the way these young women have done tonight," Wynne said on Twitter. "My government and I have been clear on the issue of sexual harassment and assault. In fact our policy and our ad were called 'It's Never Okay.'"
It's a difficult and brave thing to do to come forward in the way these young women have done tonight. My government and I have been clear on the issue of sexual harassment and assault. In fact our policy and our ad were called "It's Never Okay".— Kathleen Wynne (@Kathleen_Wynne) January 25, 2018
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer distanced himself from Brown, his former caucus colleague, in a short statement released on Wednesday evening.
"Sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment have no place in Canadian society, especially within our political system," Scheer said in the statement. "I understand how difficult it can be for women to come forward under these circumstances. The allegations against the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario are extremely serious and should be investigated fully."
Ontario PCs to choose interim leader
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative caucus will meet on Thursday to elect an interim leader to replace Brown. In an email to the party’s legislators sent Wednesday night, PC Party President Rick Dykstra says he has requested, and MPPs have agreed, to select an interim leader.
Dykstra says that interim leader will serve until a new leader is picked in a leadership election, according to the party’s constitution.
It’s not clear from Dykstra’s message when that leadership election will take place.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 12:05 a.m. ET on Jan. 25 with additional reaction to the allegations. It was updated again at 8:00 a.m. and 10:14 a.m. with news of Patrick Brown's resignation, and the election of an interim party leader