BRAMPTON, Ont. — Patrick Brown has officially joined the race to lead the federal Conservatives, with a promise to heal the fractures that have erupted in the party over recent years.
Brown, 43, launched his campaign in Brampton, Ont., where he has served as mayor since 2018.
He walked on stage at the Queen’s Manor Event Centre with his wife, Genevieve, and their two children Sunday as the crowd chanted his name.
Brown's speech pitched a campaign that offers a greater voice for caucus members and a bigger Conservative tent.
"I want people who have never voted Conservative, and voted for other parties to feel welcome in our family," Brown told the crowd Sunday.
Brown, known within the party as a hardworking organizer, is the fifth candidate to enter the Conservative leadership race, already populated by former federal Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest and Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre.
Rookie Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis and Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber are also running.
Brown’s political roots run deep in Brampton, and it’s a part of the country where Conservatives know they need to grow their support if they hope to form government.
He promised to do that without sacrificing seats in western or rural Canada, and suggested the party needs to stop treating Conservative members in the west "like an ATM and start delivering election victories."
In his speech, Brown addressed the main concern raised about his candidacy by party membership: his support for carbon pricing during his time as leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario.
Many party members reject carbon pricing as an ineffective "tax," including Poilievre, who has vowed to repeal the federal consumer carbon price and attacked Brown over his support of the policy.
Just before Brown announced his leadership candidacy, Poilievre's team launched an attack ad with the tag line "Patrick Brown will say and do anything," pointing out his inconsistent position on environmental policy.
"Past attempts by conservative parties in Canada to address climate change, including one that I led, haven't been done with consultation with our membership or caucus," he said.
"Trust me from experience, I can definitely admit that is not the right approach."
He said, if elected leader, the party would decide on its environmental policy collectively.
"I'm confident that together we can come up with a winning position, one that addresses climate change and respects provincial jurisdictions, energy security, energy sector workers, while keeping life affordable," he said.
Brown recently wrote a letter asking Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to forgo a planned increase for April 1, citing the price of gas and other affordability issues.
Brown also made a pitch to rebuild trust with Canada's "cultural communities," a voter base who call the country's largest cities and suburbs home and whose support Conservatives must win over if they hope to win the next election.
Brown's speech touted his opposition to Quebec's Bill 21, a controversial secularism law in that province that prohibits public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job.
As Brampton's mayor, Brown spearheaded a plan for cities to pledge money to help fund a legal challenge of the law.
He also condemned the Conservatives' promises for a barbaric cultural practices hotline and a niqab ban during the 2015 election as an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and normalize intolerance. Those policies were the reason Conservatives lost that race against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he said.
Brown's turbulent political career has been defined by its ups and downs.
Born in Toronto, he was a young Tory who in 2000 was elected as a city councillor in Barrie, Ont. From there, he became an MP in former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's government.
Brown left federal politics after winning leadership of Ontario's Progressive Conservative party in 2015, where he served as the province's Opposition leader until 2018.
Within months of an election — at a time when the Liberal government had spent more than a decade in power — in January 2018 CTV published allegations of sexual misconduct from two women against Brown.
The allegations have not been proven in court, nor have they been independently verified by The Canadian Press. Brown has long denied them.
But after initially promising to stay in the job, Brown resigned the next day and within weeks was kicked out of caucus.
He then ran for mayor of Brampton, Ont., and was elected in October 2018. He has remained in that role ever since.
Last week, Brown and CTV resolved a years-long defamation lawsuit he launched after the 2018 story.
In his speech Sunday, he offered the controversy as an example of his fighting spirit.
"When the media tried to make me cancel culture's latest victim by smearing me with false allegations I fought back and won," he said, to cheers from the crowd.
A statement released by the broadcaster and Brown said CTV regrets some factual inaccuracies their original story contained. The statement did not specify what those inaccuracies were and a CTV spokesperson declined to elaborate.
The original article includes a correction that updates the age of one of two women who accused Brown of sexual misconduct.
The news network said no money exchanged hands in the settlement.
Brown has not signalled any intent to resign as mayor of Brampton while seeking the federal party leadership. He has said he would donate his salary to various causes, including the William Osler Health System Foundation in Brampton for the duration of the race.
Conservatives will find out who their new leader is Sept. 10. Candidates have until June 3 to sign up new members and April 19 to declare they're running.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2022.
— By Laura Osman and Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
The Canadian Press