Ontario PCs opt for leadership race to replace Patrick Brown Ontario PC party interim leader Vic Fedeli is congratulated after a caucus meeting at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. Fedeli has been named interim leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives after Patrick Brown's resignation in the face of sexual misconduct allegations. Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press Justin Giovannetti , Karen Howlett and Laura Stone TORONTO and OTTAWA Published January 26, 2018Updated 24 minutes ago There will be a race to elect a permanent leader for Ontario's Progressive Conservatives before an election expected in June, party President Rick Dykstra announced on Friday afternoon. Only hours after Vic Fedeli was elected as the party's interim leader and expressed his intent to head the party in the next general election, Mr. Dykstra announced that the party's executive had decided to hold a leadership contest before the end of March. "This will be a very aggressive time frame, Mr. Dykstra said. "This party, at the end of the day always stands united, always stands focused, and I can assure you that when this is finished, before the end of March, we will be ready to take on government in June 2018." Mr. Fedeli, 61, takes over the party shaken by the abrupt resignation of Patrick Brown following allegations of sexual misconduct. Once expected by many to be Ontario's next premier, Mr. Brown's time at the helm of his party came to an end early Thursday morning, only hours after a news report aired with two young women alleging that he acted in a sexually inappropriate way with them years earlier. While Mr. Brown, who has denied the allegations, had vowed to fight on as leader, his caucus quickly revolted against him and called for his resignation. In one of his first acts as interim leader, Mr. Fedeli said he was calling on Mr. Brown to resign from the PC caucus. He called the former leader's alleged actions "deplorable." Mr. Fedeli said he would not sign off on Mr. Brown's nomination papers to run for the party in his Barrie-area riding until the allegations against the 39-year-old were properly addressed. Selected by the 28 members of the party's caucus – Mr. Brown was absent – Mr. Fedeli represents a break from Mr. Brown. Unlike the former leader, who has been an elected official since he was 22 years old, Mr. Fedeli got his start as an entrepreneur leading an advertising agency in North Bay. He was twice elected mayor of his hometown before he entered provincial politics. Now the MPP for Nipissing, Mr. Fedeli had competed against Mr. Brown for the party's leadership in 2015, but he dropped out of that race and endorsed Christine Elliott, who lost to Mr. Brown. Since then Mr. Fedeli had been one of the party's stalwarts in the legislature and often tangled with the Liberal government in his role as the opposition party's finance critic. On Friday, before the party decision to hold a leadership contest, Mr. Fedeli turned his sights on Premier Kathleen Wynne, saying that Conservatives should focus their attention on the Premier and not on each other. "There's no time to waste," he said. "We're in the middle of an election campaign." Before heading into the party's caucus room at Queen's Park for Friday's vote, PC MPP Lisa MacLeod said she brought up allegations she had heard about Mr. Brown to the party's campaign team and was told they were "unfounded" weeks before he resigned. Ms. MacLeod said she flagged allegations about the then-leader's conduct "two or three times before Christmas." While she would not provide specifics on the allegations beyond saying she heard of "inappropriate touching or multiple girlfriends" from people in her Ottawa-area riding, Ms. MacLeod said they were similar to those brought forward earlier this week by two women as first reported by CTV News. "There were a lot of things that were percolating that a lot of people heard. I did and I would bring them to the campaign team. I did that before Christmas," she told reporters. "I was told that it was unfounded. I'm not a private investigator, I'm not a police officer, but certainly when I heard issues about women I would bring them forward." Dimitri Soudas, a former director of communications to prime minister Stephen Harper who volunteered to run the provincial PC war room, said in a series of tweets on Friday that Ms. MacLeod "informed me of rumours and allegations in regards to her then leader, Mr. Brown. "She did not have specific details. Just rumours. I strongly urged her to raise these issues directly with Mr. Brown as I was a volunteer and she was a caucus member," he wrote. "I also urged her to raise this issue with caucus. She clearly didn't." After being elected, Mr. Fedeli said the party would now take a look at strengthening its policies and procedures to avoid a similar situation in the future. Conservatives have been divided on whether to hold a leadership vote. Some Tory MPPs wanted the interim leader to stay on until the election because they believed it would give the party the best chance to regain its momentum. Before Mr. Brown was toppled, the opposition party was favoured in public polling to win, ending the Liberals' 14-year reign at Queen's Park. However, others within the party, including at least one promising candidate, argued it would be undemocratic to not allow members to select their new leader. Rod Phillips, considered one of the party's star candidates and running in the riding of Ajax, said in a statement that the entire party membership, and not just the caucus, has to choose the leader that will guide the party through the election. "The leader who takes us through the election must have a clear mandate from all members of the Ontario PC Party. Our party is made up of some 200,000 members across our province. This isn't without its challenges, given the timelines, but it is the right thing to do," he said. Mr. Phillips is the former chair of the Postmedia newspaper chain and a former head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Mr. Brown has not released any further statements since he was forced to resign at 1:30 a.m. Thursday. He said he would stay on as an MPP in Barrie and defend his reputation. It took less than four hours for Mr. Brown's leadership to unravel. Reporters were summoned to Queen's Park for a news conference at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, just minutes before CTV News aired a report alleging sexual misconduct involving two young women. A visibly upset Mr. Brown vowed he was innocent and would stay on to fight, saying he was made aware only hours earlier by CTV News that the network was ready to report the allegations. Before Mr. Brown had even left the legislature, his inner circle was disintegrating. Members of his campaign team and senior staff announced they were stepping down because Mr. Brown had rejected their advice that he resign for the sake of the party. As the scandal began to gain international attention, senior party members organized emergency phone calls with caucus members. During a late-night conference call, everyone, with the exception of Mr. Brown, was unanimous in saying he had to step down, an insider said, explaining he was given an ultimatum: Either caucus issues a statement or you do. The conference call reconvened after a half-hour break, at which point Mr. Brown had prepared a statement saying he was resigning. The political shakeup was caused by a CTV News report about Mr. Brown's alleged interactions with two teenage girls several years ago. The news agency reported that one, a high-school student in Barrie at the time of the incident, alleges that she met Mr. Brown at a local bar with a mutual friend. The future PC leader allegedly invited her to his home and provided them with alcohol, though they were underage. During a tour of his home, she said he stopped in his bedroom with her and then exposed himself and asked her to perform oral sex on him, CTV News reported. She said she did briefly and then left. The Globe and Mail interviewed the second woman who spoke with CTV. The woman, who met Mr. Brown when she was 18 and he was a federal MP, worked in his office for two summers while she was a university student. She alleges that during an after-party at Mr. Brown's house in the summer of 2013, when she was 19, and while she was intoxicated and Mr. Brown was sober, he kissed her and climbed on top of her while they were alone in his room. "I kind of froze for a few minutes, and he laid me down on the bed and was on top of me, kissing me … I remember him pushing himself up against me. I felt his erection there," she said. "What happened with me I think was an abuse of power and I think that for that reason it's important that the public was aware." She said she was approached by CTV last month, but had previously shared her story with one of the outlet's reporters. She said no one influenced her decision to speak out. The Globe has chosen not to identify the woman. CTV also did not reveal identities. Mr. Brown's sister, Stephanie Brown, posted a statement on Facebook on Friday morning in his defence. "What happened to my brother was disgusting. And make no mistake, he is the victim," she wrote in a post that she said her friends could share in their own social-media channels. "These completely false allegations were 100 per cent politically motivated and nothing more than a political hit. I know them for a fact to be untrue. Those who know me would characterize me as a strong feminist but making false allegations does not help the feminist cause. Applauding accusers who remain nameless ghosts to bolster political capital – pathetic. My brother is the kindest person I have ever known – he has always worked tirelessly to help people. He did not deserve this." At a news conference in her Queen's Park office on Thursday morning, Ms. Wynne said the allegations against Mr. Brown were shocking. "I think many of us feel very shaken by what we heard last night," she said. While the Premier would not comment on whether Mr. Brown should resign his seat in the legislature, she said the allegations against the former opposition leader were a sign of Ontario's continuing struggle with issues of sexual harassment. "We all have to be vigilant and we have to shine a light in all parts of our lives to create those safe places that we know are possible, but for whatever reason, we have not been able to create," she said. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said any New Democrat facing similar allegations would not serve under her. "If he was in my caucus, he wouldn't be sitting as an MPP any longer," she said. "This is about women coming forward and calling out behaviour that they experienced and I have to say I was pretty disgusted by what I heard in terms of their story." Mr. Brown was the second Canadian leader to fall this week, after Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie was asked to resign his post after an investigator found he had breached workplace harassment rules. Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer addressed the allegations against both men. "We have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the Conservative Party of Canada."