OTTAWA—A veteran Conservative operative who worked on Patrick Brown’s campaign has come forward to say she flagged concerns to party brass that led to his disqualification from the leadership contest.
Debbie Jodoin, employed for about a month as a regional organizer on the Brown campaign, revealed Thursday night that she blew the whistle on how she was paid for her work.
“Mr. Brown told me that it was permissible for me to be employed by a company as a consultant, and then for that company to have me volunteer with the campaign,” Jodoin said in a statement through her lawyer, Jason Beitchman of Loopstra Nixon LLP.
The Conservative party has said it believes such an arrangement would contravene Canada’s election finance laws and has referred the matter to the federal elections watchdog.
“He connected me by text message with a third party for that purpose,” Jodoin said. “I trusted him, but as time went on I became increasingly concerned with the arrangement and suspected it was not OK.”
In a statement late Thursday, Brown’s campaign said “it is unfortunate that we have learned of the details only through the media.”
“Once Ms. Jodoin provided information, it was the obligation of the Conservative party to conduct themselves fairly and transparently,” his team said.
“They have failed to do so and, instead, chose to use this for other obvious purposes — those purposes have nothing to do with the integrity of the party or a genuine desire to hear out our campaign.”
Brown’s camp noted normally “issues relating to volunteers, organizers and lobbyists are raised directly with the campaign and an opportunity to address and remediate the concerns is given.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in this case because of course that was not the goal. The goal was to disqualify Patrick Brown from the leadership race and narrow the field.”
Jodoin, a Brown loyalist dating back to his days as Ontario Progressive Conservative leader between 2015 and 2018, said she told him last month she wanted the campaign, not the unnamed private company, to pay her expenses.
She said Brown told her he was “on it.”
But then, Jodoin, whose LinkedIn profile says she is semi-retired, said “a corporation paid me and paid for my expenses, not the Brown campaign.”
She parted ways with the campaign on June 3.
In an interview with the Star on Wednesday, Brown, who is the mayor of Brampton, emphasized he had done nothing wrong and charged that rival Pierre Poilievre’s campaign was behind his ouster.
Beitchman, however, stressed, “Ms. Jodoin expressly rejects any suggestion that she was coerced or pressured by others to come forward and did so of her own volition.”
Brown’s stunning defenestration from the race Tuesday night has roiled the party.
Conservative officials were locked in heated meetings all day Thursday dealing with the fallout from their surprise decision over concerns his campaign broke elections financing law.
Materials related to the complaint are now before the Commissioner of Canada Elections, the agency confirmed Thursday.
It’s possible the substance of the agency’s findings will never be made public.
“Our office reviews every complaint it receives, regardless of its source, to determine whether or not the allegations fall within the scope of its mandate,” spokesperson Michelle Laliberté said in a statement.
“However, it is only at the conclusion of a review or investigation — and only in cases where formal compliance or enforcement action is taken — that limited information is made available to the public.”
Prior to Jodoin’s statement, the Tories were grappling over whether to release more information about the complaint as Brown’s campaign had begun disclosing more details.
In a statement, campaign officials said they were asked by the party to turn over a list of payments made by “any corporations to staff members, employees or consultants involved in the campaign.”
Corporate donations to leadership candidates are forbidden.
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The campaign replied with information on the “sole probable case which, to the best knowledge of the campaign was compliant as the volunteer work was done outside of work hours.”
Brown’s team also told the party they were not aware of any other corporations that were paying or supporting staff on their campaign.
Some of the hand-wringing at Conservative party headquarters has also been prompted by Brown’s decision to retain prominent lawyer Marie Henein to appeal his disqualification, and the question of whether the rules actually give him an opening to do so.
In a sharply worded letter to the party’s returning officer, Henein said this about the events leading to Brown’s removal: “The Kafkaesque process led to a politically motivated and preordained result and is not consistent with the values that should be upheld by this party.”
She also said the result of his dismissal is the “disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Canadians — in particular, new Canadians — that Mr. Brown and his campaign have brought into the party.”
Brown claims to have signed up more than 150,000 new party members, a number the Star has been unable to independently verify.
Party sources have said it is about half that, though Brown’s campaign has stood by its claim.
Now, many votes Brown did potentially have in his camp could be up for grabs, and one candidate made a direct pitch for them on Thursday.
In an email to party members, candidate Leslyn Lewis called for the party to be more transparent on the substance of the allegations, but said that without the information, she didn’t want to address them.
Instead, she said, she wanted to speak to those who’d signed up for Brown, calling it “unsettling” to have one of the candidates removed from the race at this point, and acknowledging it may change how people vote.
They should consider a vote for her, Lewis said.
“Our party is focused on ideas, not the cult of personalities. I believe that while candidates can motivate people to join the Conservative party, people ultimately join because their values align with the values of our party,” she said.
“While Patrick and I obviously didn’t agree on everything, like Patrick, I believe that our party’s tent needs to expand to include many new Canadians who have settled in large urban centres like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.”
Jean Charest, another candidate in the race, has also urged greater transparency from the party, while presumed front-runner Pierre Poilievre has used the incident to further attack Brown’s political record.
But both are also expected to make plays for Brown’s supporters.
Poilievre gave an interview Wednesday to the Parvasi Media Group, a premier South Asian media network in Brown’s backyard of Peel Region.
He stressed his commitment to immigration and making it easier for newcomers to get their credentials recognized.
And while he repeated his attacks on Brown, Poilievre also insisted that he’s not taking his front-runner status lightly.
“It’s still two more months to go and we never take anything for granted,” he said.
On Thursday, Charest sent out his economic proposals to party members, stressing his key message that he’s the only serious candidate in the race.
“To win the next federal election we need to offer real and compelling conservative solutions. Not just sound bites,” he wrote.
Charest, Lewis and Poilievre as well as candidates Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber are expected to cross paths this weekend at one of the premier events on the conservative circuit: the annual Calgary Stampede Conservative BBQ.
It could be an intense family reunion.
Not only is there fallout from Brown’s disqualification, but Alberta’s United Conservative Party is now in its own leadership race as current leader and premier Jason Kenney serves out his final days.
Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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