TORONTO – The public had a right to know Patrick Brown accepted a loan from a man who would become a candidate for his party, Ontario’s integrity watchdog said after finding the former Progressive Conservative leader breached the laws that govern the conduct of provincial legislators.
In a 60-page ruling released Thursday, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake said Brown breached the Member’s Integrity Act four times over matters involving his personal finances, but there was insufficient evidence to find him in breach over alleged travel violations.
“It is imperative that members take their disclosure obligations … seriously,” Wake said in his decision. “When they do not there should be consequences.”
The investigation was triggered by a complaint in February from Tory legislator Randy Hillier, who alleged Brown “engaged in dirty and crooked politics.” By then Brown had resigned over sexual misconduct allegations that he vehemently denies.
Wake said Brown admitted he failed to disclose rental income of approximately $20,000 on his personal residence in 2016 and 2017 and failed to disclose a $375,000 loan from Jas Johal, a former Tory candidate in Brampton, in 2016 and 2017.
Of Brown’s four violations — two related to rental income and two related to the loan — failing to disclose the loan was the most serious breach as it involved a party candidate, Wake said.
“When the leader of a political party is substantially indebted to a candidate for election as an MPP for that party, the interests of transparency require that the indebtedness be made known so that people have an appropriate context to assess the relationship between the leader and the candidate,” Wake said.
“Simply put, the public has a right to know.”
Brown, in his first filings to the integrity watchdog in February, called Hillier’s allegations “entirely fictional” and a “crass attempt to spin the legal as illegal.” In a second filing and later interviews, Brown admitted to certain breaches, Wake noted.
At the core of the complaint was Brown’s 2016 purchase of a $2.3 million five-bedroom lakefront home in his riding of Simcoe-North. In order to close the deal Brown was required by the bank to pay a $575,000 down payment but only had $200,000 himself from the sale of his previous home, Wake’s investigation noted.
Initially, Brown arranged a deal with Johal, who was a personal friend, to sell him his stake in a Barrie, Ont. bar and some Aeroplan miles for $375,000, Wake’s decision said. That deal was later dropped and Johal instead loaned Brown the money, the men told Wake during separate interviews.
“It is clear to me that the non-disclosure was deliberate and not through inadvertence,” Wake said in his decision.
Wake said he found no evidence that the loan to Brown influenced Johal’s appointment as Tory candidate in Brampton-North months later.
“Although the PC Party has now revoked Mr. Johal’s nomination and reopened the nomination process I cannot find on the evidence before me that Mr. Brown did anything to influence the outcome of the nomination process that resulted in Mr. Johal being acclaimed,” Wake said.
Wake recommended Brown be issued a reprimand over the breaches and left the matter to legislators at Queen’s Park to debate.
When asked if the party feels Brown should face further sanction, a spokeswoman for Tory leader Doug Ford didn’t directly respond, saying that the party was focused on “delivering relief” to Ontarians.
In a post on Twitter, Brown apologized for breaching the rules.
“I accept the reprimand and apologize for not disclosing my limited rental income and temporary secondary mortgage,” he wrote. “Glad this matter is now closed.”
Wake’s decision also revealed that Brown, who is still a sitting member of Ontario’s legislature, has a new job.
The integrity commissioner said that Brown disclosed he has taken a job as the Vice President of Tortel, a telecommunications equipment provider based in Vaughan, Ont., owned by a friend.
Brown is not barred from holding the job under the rules that govern legislators but is required to declare any change in income.
While the disclosure has been made, it won’t be reported publicly because the next time the Integrity Commissioner reports on the assets of Ontario politicians, 60 days after the spring election, Brown will not be a sitting legislator and will be exempt.