Ontario PC president resigns after sexual assault allegations while Tories clean house
Party president Rick Dykstra stepped down on Sunday, amid a series of staff changes at Queen’s Park and party headquarters. The move happened hours after he was confronted with allegations of sexual assault.
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It was a bloody Sunday for the Progressive Conservatives still reeling from the Patrick Brown scandal.
Party president Rick Dykstra, a close Brown ally, announced his resignation two hours after Maclean’s magazine contacted him about sexual assault allegations against him.
“I have made the decision to step aside as president and take a step back for someone else to lead us through the hard work,” Dykstra said in a statement Sunday night.
“After two years in this position, I know the party is prepared to take on the hard work necessary to fight this election,” said the former Conservative MP, who served with Brown in Ottawa.
Dykstra’s stunning move came two days after he disclosed the Tories would hold a leadership contest by March 31.
He did not immediately return a message from the Star.
According to Maclean’s, a young federal Conservative staffer filed a complaint with Ottawa police in 2014 about the then MP.
She alleged she was sexually assaulted at Dykstra’s apartment after a night of drinking. Police told Maclean’s they stopped their investigation at her request.
The allegations have not been proven in court. But the federal Tories briefly considered preventing him from running in the 2015 federal election as a result of the claims.
He ended up losing his St. Catharines seat in part because he was accused of buying alcohol for underaged girls at a local bar. While he was photographed with the teens, he denied knowingly bought them bottles of vodka.
Dykstra’s statement did not address the allegations cited by Maclean’s.
Jag Badwal, a party vice-president, will be the interim president.
Earlier Sunday, interim Conservative leader Vic Fedeli parted ways with controversial PC executive director Bob Stanley as part of a slew of staff changes at Queen’s Park and party headquarters.
Stanley, another Brown intimate, was a key figure in many of the Tories’ contentious candidate nominations, including the Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas debacle being investigated by police.
“Thank you for the opportunity but I respectfully decline to comment,” he told the Star in a email Sunday.
The upheaval is fallout from Brown’s dramatic departure as leader at 1:25 a.m. Thursday just hours after CTV revealed alleged sexual impropriety involving two women when they were teens and he was a Conservative MP.
Brown has denied the allegations and vowed to clear his name.
Former MPP Garfield Dunlop, who gave up his Orillia seat so Brown could run there in 2015, has lost his job as an adviser in the leader’s office.
“With any change in leadership comes a need for reorganization. While reorganizations are always difficult, they are also sometimes necessary,” wrote Fedeli’s chief of staff, Alykhan Velshi, in an internal memo.
“I want to be very clear that these decisions followed recommendations I made to the leader when he asked me to become his chief of staff on Friday evening,” wrote Velshi, who had resigned as Brown’s chief of staff Wednesday night after the then leader initially rejected his advice to quit.
“At no point did (Fedeli’s) campaign team attempt to influence or interfere in those decisions. Responsibility for any recommendation is mine alone,” he concluded.
Tamara Macgregor, Brown’s deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs, is also out.
Rebecca Thompson, the well-regarded deputy chief of staff for communications, has left of her own volition to join the party’s leadership executive organizing committee.
With plans to hold a leadership contest just weeks before the June 7 provincial election, the Tories are scrambling to get organized.
Fedeli, a former North Bay mayor, and first-time Tory candidates Caroline Mulroney, a lawyer who is running in York-Simcoe, and business and community leader Rod Phillips, running in Ajax, are likely candidates for full-time PC chief.
Tory MPP Monte McNaughton — who, like Fedeli, ran in the 2015 leadership race won by Brown — is also considering another bid for the top job.
“Monte has had 400 calls and emails asking him to consider it,” said a McNaughton loyalist, noting the Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP was a key player on federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s leadership campaign last year.
“In addition to his group from the last leadership, which remains largely intact, he also has the Scheer group to draw upon,” said the insider, mindful of McNaughton’s appeal to social conservatives still furious at Brown for turning his back on them in 2016.
One-term Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, who lost to John Tory in the 2014 mayoral election, is musing about entering the race. Ford had considered a bid for the 2015 leadership contest but abandoned that after weeks of media attention.
Velshi’s memo pointed out that five other junior positions — in the leader’s office and at the party — have been eliminated.
Nicholas Bergamini, who resigned from Brown’s office Wednesday night when the then leader vowed to weather the scandal, has returned as the new director of communications.
Clint Thomas, a former Canadian Press reporter who has worked for Fedeli for years, will be the interim leader’s principal secretary.
John Sinclair, executive director of PC caucus services, will also serve as the deputy chief of staff.
The changes come as Fedeli addresses allegations of questionable party spending during the Brown era.
As first disclosed by the Star, there are concerns the PC party executive was wasting money on expensive lawsuits and rewarding allies with lucrative contracts.
“It’s important that our caucus have a very serious look at the accusations that are made in the letter,” Fedeli said Saturday, referring to a memo sent to executive members of the PC Ontario Fund by Ottawa businessman Thom Bennett, a longtime PC activist.
In his letter, Bennett urged the party, which is believed to have spent more than $1.5 million on legal fees and settlements involving candidate nomination contests, to stop wasting money.
“I want to make a motion stating that all payments of funds to reimburse lawyers defending legal suits against the PC Party of Ontario cease — immediately,” he wrote.
“We must stop this bleeding — nay gushing — of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the PC Ontario Fund, and it must be stopped now.”
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