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Brown campaign says he plans to vote for Charest, accepts anyone but Poilievre

OTTAWA — Voting for Jean Charest is the best way to stop Pierre Poilievre from becoming leader of the Conservative party, Patrick Brown's campaign told supporters Tuesday, after admitting their candidate's efforts to challenge his disqualification fr
Conservative leadership hopeful Patrick Brown takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. According to a spokesman for Brown his supporters believe the best choice for federal Conservative leader is Jean Charest now that Brown is out of the race. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

OTTAWA — Voting for Jean Charest is the best way to stop Pierre Poilievre from becoming leader of the Conservative party, Patrick Brown's campaign told supporters Tuesday, after admitting their candidate's efforts to challenge his disqualification from the race are likely to fail. 

That evening, his campaign team emailed supporters saying Brown planned to vote for Charest and encouraged others to decide for themselves among the remaining candidates. 

It says while Brown continues to pursue "all legal options" to appeal the party's decision to boot him from the race, it admitted for the first time that likely won't happen before party members attempt to pick a new leader Sept.10.

"If that is the case, Patrick has been clear he would support any new leader ... except Pierre Poilievre. If it comes to that, he will be voting for Jean Charest," his message read. 

Brown's endorsement of Charest comes after a Monday evening discussion with more than 100 people who had been helping with his leadership bid. Some who participated said many voiced disappointment and anger at the party.

Poilievre and Brown have been rivals since the race began, with Brown campaigning on the fact Poilievre ran for re-election with the party in 2015 when it promised to ban face coverings during citizenship ceremonies and establish a tip line for so-called "barbaric cultural practices."

In Tuesday's message, Brown's campaign says he considers fellow candidate Leslyn Lewis "a friend" and applauded Scott Aitchison — like Lewis, an Ontario MP — for policy positions like fighting a controversial secularism law in Quebec, which Brown also opposes.

"But at the end of the day Jean Charest has the best chance to stop Pierre Poilievre extremism," his campaign said. 

Charest later tweeted that the party members Brown recruited are welcome in his camp. 

"I will offer them a voice and respect."

Brown's  message comes after John Reynolds, a former MP who had served as a co-chair on Brown's campaign, endorsed Charest.

But whether those he brought into the Conservative fold — many of whom appear new to the party — choose to follow suit isn't necessarily that clear-cut.

"It's all going to come down to how much work (Brown) and his organizers want to continue to put in this race," said political strategist Chris Chapin, who previously worked in Brown's office when he was Official Opposition leader in Ontario. 

In a statement circulated by Charest's campaign, Reynolds said the ex-Quebec premier was the best choice to unite the party when its divisions within caucus and the broader movement are on full display. 

"We have had too much negative publicity lately, so we need to offer Canadians a positive, unified and inclusive Conservative party with a new, time-tested leader," Reynolds said. 

Reynolds didn't mention Brown by name or the disqualified candidate’s planned appeal. 

But since Brown's sudden dismissal a week ago, the situation has consumed the attention of the party's top brass, along with many members and some organizers on other campaigns. 

The chair of the committee that voted in favour of kicking Brown out of the race said it did so on a recommendation from the party's chief returning officer, based on an allegation that Brown may have violated federal election laws. 

A longtime organizer has since come forward as the one who made the allegation, saying Brown was involved in an arrangement that saw a private corporation pay for her work on the campaign.

Since his disqualification, Brown has stated his team did nothing wrong and accused the party of refusing to provide the full details of the incident when first asked to provide an explanation. He has also hired high-profile lawyer Marie Henein to seek an appeal.

His campaign said it sold 150,000 memberships, although party headquarters hasn't validated that figure or any others publicized by the five remaining campaigns. 

By comparison Poilievre has said he sold a whopping 312,000 memberships. 

Brown's name will still appear on the final ballot, which the party will use to pick a leader by asking members to rank the candidates from their first to last choice. 

That means supporters could still pick Brown as their top choice and so the party is finalizing a plan for what will happen to votes that go his way. 

At a news conference earlier Tuesday in Brampton, Ont., where he has yet to disclose if he plans to seek a second term as mayor, Brown swatted away questions about his federal campaign. He said the issue rests with his legal counsel. 

Brown's strategy in the race had been trying to recruit new members to the party, rather than trying to court existing ones — who, he thought, were more likely to back Poilievre and his populist message. 

He aimed to sign up thousands of immigrants and newcomers by promising to build a more inclusive party. He pitched himself as an ally on specific issues of interest to them, from improving cricket infrastructure to reforming the immigration system. 

How much of Brown’s vote goes to Charest will depend on whether Brown and his campaign team work to persuade supporters to switch their allegiance to the former Quebec premier, said Chapin.

"These members signed up for Patrick," he said. 

Because Brown ran a campaign that often appeared at odds with some party positions — delisting the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist entity, for example — Chapin said it's going to be difficult to cajole supporters to back a different candidate who didn't make such pledges. 

Party spokesman Yaroslav Baran said as of Tuesday, more than 280,000 ballots had been delivered, with another large batch scheduled to be dropped in the mail by the end of the week. 

Although headquarters hasn't confirmed specific membership sales from each campaign, it has recorded a voting base of more than 670,000 members, more than double what it had for the 2020 leadership race.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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