Brampton, Ont. Mayor Patrick Brown said Thursday he won’t run for the federal Conservatives if his main rival for the leadership, Pierre Poilievre, wins the party’s top job in the September leadership election.
In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Brown said he’s confident he can win the leadership but, if he falls short, he’d also consider running under the party banner in the next election if former Quebec premier Jean Charest or MP Leslyn Lewis wins the leadership.
Brown said it’s not his personal opinion of Poilievre that would keep him from running under his leadership — even though the two candidates have attacked each other verbally throughout the campaign. He said he’s convinced Poilievre would tank the party’s fortunes in the greater Toronto area.
“I could run under them, absolutely. They have the capacity to win the next general election,” Brown said of Charest and Lewis.
“With Pierre Poilievre, I just don’t believe he could win seats in the GTA. I think his message is too divisive. Even as a popular mayor in the GTA, I don’t think I could win a seat with a leader like him. So, for me, following the federal route with Pierre wouldn’t make much sense.”
Brown said that if Poilievre wins, he would consider staying in his current job as mayor of Brampton, a city of about 600,000 west of Toronto.
The deadline to file paperwork for a re-election bid in that municipality is Aug. 19 — weeks before the Conservative leadership election results will be known in early September.
Brown didn’t say why exactly he sees Poilievre undermining the Conservative vote in the Toronto area. The mayor previously has cited Poilievre’s past support for a niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies and a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line as an election liabilities in the vote-rich region.
Brown questions Poilievre’s numbers
Brown also said Thursday he doesn’t trust some of the membership figures the Poilievre campaign has released.
Poilievre’s team said last weekend that they had sold more than 310,000 new memberships — an eye-popping number that his campaign said indicates their candidate can win on the first ballot.
Brown said Thursday he sold more than 150,000 memberships before the June 3 deadline.
The Conservative Party has said there are roughly 600,000 members eligible to vote in this leadership election — a number that may be adjusted after the party completes a verification process to weed out any duplicates.
There were already roughly 140,000 Conservative members in good standing when the race started. If Poilievre signed up 310,000 members and Brown convinced 150,000 more to join the party, the mayor said, that means the campaigns led by Charest, Lewis, Independent MPP Roman Baber and MP Scott Aitichison sold few, if any, memberships.
“If Pierre Poilievre’s claims are true, essentially no one else has sold memberships,” he said. “I think the other campaigns ran robust campaigns so, clearly, there’s a disconnect with the claims the Poilievre campaign has made.”
Brown said that to address these competing membership sales figures, the party should release a membership list to all the campaigns now.
“It’s only fair to have the list out so we know where everyone stands,” Brown said.
Brown said the Poilievre campaign has tried to block that move.
“If they were that confident in that campaign and they actually did sell the memberships they claimed to, they wouldn’t be as worried as they are. They continue to take a scorched-earth approach to our candidates and that doesn’t speak to the confidence of a presumed front-runner,” Brown said.
Jenni Byrne, a former senior adviser to ex-prime Stephen Harper and a senior official with the Poilievre campaign, said it would be “completely against the rules” to release a list of members before its been verified by party officials. She also said Brown isn’t being truthful about his membership figures.
“If he did sell 150,000 memberships, release the exact number,” Byrne said in an interview with CTV this week. “What Patrick Brown is doing is what he does best, which is lie.”
Ian Brodie is the chair of the party’s leadership election organizing committee (LEOC), the body that is running this leadership race. He said Thursday the party will produce an interim voters’ list in about a month’s time — a list the campaigns can use to reach out to members to convince them to vote for a particular candidate.
Brodie said the party will then send each of the campaigns a final voters’ list by July 29.
“In order to be fair to all of the campaigns that are in this race, I have to follow the party’s rules,” Brodie told Power & Politics.