TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leadership campaign has taken a nasty turn with less than two months before members cast their votes.
MPP Christine Elliott accused rival Patrick Brown — Conservative MP for Barrie — late Monday night of not reporting all of the money he has raised to the party.
Elliott’s statement pointed to various public comments Brown and campaign staff have made about their fundraising, with Elliott suggesting their claims add up to more than half a million dollars — far more than the $199,000 in donations Brown has reported to Elections Ontario.
Elliott says she is concerned Brown “is not committed to rebuilding this party in a transparent was” because disclosure is required within 10 days of a donation and 20 per cent of contributions go to the party.
Brown fired back with a statement of his own this morning, calling her allegation “false” and saying he is complying with Elections Ontario regulations.
He clarified in a fuller statement later Tuesday that Elections Ontario told his campaign it has a number of his filings that have not yet been posted to the website.
A fundraiser held with former Quebec premier Jean Charest raised $100,000, wrote Brown, saying he expected Elections Ontario to post the donation “in due course.”
Elections Ontario does not require reporting of “in-kind donations of goods and services,” though the campaign has reported those to the party, Brown said.
Brown hurled an accusation of his own, with his campaign manager alleging Elliott sent a lawyer’s letter “threatening” the party if it releases detailed membership numbers.
Elliott said the letter was sent in an effort to clarify the rules of the leadership race.
“If Patrick Brown wants to criticize our campaign for doing our due diligence and clarifying the rules, that speaks volumes,” she said.
The party has reported that about 70,000 memberships were sold since the start of the race to replace Tim Hudak, but the total number of memberships the three leadership candidates claim they sold before the cut-off date — about 94,000 — suggests one or all of the campaigns’ figures are off.
Brown said he sold about 40,000, while Elliott said she signed up 34,000 new members, and MPP Monte McNaughton boasted 20,000 new memberships, though a party source has put his figure closer to 6,000.
Every PC member can vote for the new leader on May 3 and 7, with the winner to be revealed on May 9, but the votes will be weighted so each of the 107 ridings gets 100 points, which means where the memberships were sold is almost as important as how many.
Leadership campaigns often exaggerate their numbers to boast who has the most momentum, a move aimed at party voters who just want to support the front-runner, observers have said.
Elliott is way out in front in the fundraising department, reporting $757,000 in donations so far, while McNaughton has reported $105,000.