OTTAWA—Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative leadership campaign is going guns a’blazing after his rival Patrick Brown, alleging he’s broken both the party’s rules and campaign finance law.
One of Poilievre’s backers has asked the Commissioner of Canada Elections to investigate a report that Brown, who is currently the mayor of Brampton, has city staff working full-time on his leadership bid.
The letter to the commissioner — a copy of which was obtained by the Star — says that if city-paid staff are working on Brown’s campaign during business hours, that’s essentially a campaign donation from a municipal corporation, which is illegal.
“In light of the apparent violation of the Canada Elections Act, I respectfully request that Elections Canada investigate, and take such enforcement steps as may be warranted,” reads the letter, signed by Alberta MP Chris Warkentin.
The complaint is based on a report by online media site Rebel News, which claimed to have tracked and documented city staff working out of Brown’s campaign headquarters and traveling with Brown as part of his campaign.
The report includes denials from some city staff that they are being paid to work on the campaign, or that they traveled to certain events with Brown.
The City of Brampton did not immediately return a request for comment from the Star.
Brown’s campaign outright denied the allegations, slamming Rebel News as a discredited outlet engaged in partisan attacks on Brown, not actual journalism.
Poilievre once worked as a spokesperson for Ezra Levant, back when the Rebel News founder was in politics, Brown’s campaign noted.
“There are no Brampton city staff being paid by Brampton on Patrick Brown’s campaign,” said campaign spokesman Chisholm Pothier.
“There are many staff who believe in Patrick Brown’s vision for the party and Canada that are helping out on their own or taking a leave from their city job.”
The Commissioner of Canada Elections would not comment.
“In keeping with the confidentiality provisions of the Canada Elections Act, the Commissioner of Canada Elections generally does not confirm whether it has received a complaint or has initiated an investigation into a particular issue,” spokesperson Veronique Aupry said in an email.
The complaint to the commissioner follows a complaint lodged with the Conservative party over Brown’s membership sales.
His campaign claims to have brought in more than 150,000 new members, but Poilievre’s campaign alleges some of those sales broke party rules.
In a letter to the leadership organizing committee, known as LEOC, one of Poilievre’s campaign co-chairs alleges Brown’s campaign team was offering to pay people back for taking out memberships, and provided WhatsApp messages and audio recordings to back up their claims.
“The surreptitious reimbursement of membership fees by supporters allows campaigns to receive donations in excess of individual donor limits, outside the party’s directed donation scheme, and results in a campaign incurring unreported expenditures,” read the letter from Tim Uppal, also an Alberta MP.
“These arrangements are contrary to LEOC rules and illegal under the Canada Elections Act.”
The party acknowledged it has received the complaint.
“We are investigating the allegations contained in the complaint and will not have anything more to say until our investigation has been concluded,” executive director Wayne Benson said in a statement.
The Brown campaign also denies those allegations.
“Patrick Brown is gaining momentum and being considered by some astute analysts as the likely winner of this race,” Pothier said.
“The forces of reaction are scared.”
Poilievre and Brown have been at each other’s throats since the start of the leadership race, both on social media and during the official leadership debates.
Brown has called Poilievre unelectable, and suggested he’s not doing enough to tamp down conspiracy theorists in his camp who hold racist beliefs, while Poilievre has accused Brown of lying about his political past and said he can’t be trusted.
The twin allegations from the Poilievre camp surfaced as the Brown campaign lost one of its key backers — longtime MP and campaign co-chair Michelle Rempel Garner.
She’s decided to consider running for leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party and in turn, announced she is stepping back from her work on the federal party leadership campaign.
In a statement following her announcement, Brown wished her well.
“She has served Canada well and will continue to serve in whatever role is next,” he wrote.
“We’ll miss you Michelle, but thanks for your contribution to our campaign.”
Poilievre jumped in, too.
“Patrick Brown is drowning in scandal. He had to lie to cover up his poor membership sales,” he alleged.
“He has lost three of his four caucus supporters — including his national campaign chair. He is in free fall.”
The other two MPs backing Brown switched to Poilievre early this month.
Brown has not ruled out leaving the race and trying to get re-elected as mayor of Brampton — he’d have to file his papers by mid-August.
But he’s under fire there, too, with some Brampton city councilors alleging this week he’s deliberately skipping meetings to avoid accountability.
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