TORONTO (AP) — The leader of Ontario's conservative opposition party reversed course and resigned Thursday amid allegations of sexual misconduct that surfaced just months before an election in Canada's most populous province.
Later, a Liberal Party minister quit his post on the federal Cabinet after being accused of making inappropriate sexual remarks while in provincial politics a decade ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he accepted the resignation of Sport and Disability Minister Kent Hehr pending an investigation. Trudeau made the announcement just before leaving the World Economic Forum, where he made respect for woman a key feature of a speech.
Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, made his decision to resign after consulting with his caucus on a conference call. Two women have accused him of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers.
The move came after almost his entire campaign team, including his chief of staff and press secretary, quit late Wednesday in protest after he earlier declined to step down. CTV News reported two women have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Brown that date back to when he was a federal lawmaker.
The report said one of the women, now 29, said she was still in high school when Brown allegedly asked her to perform oral sex on him. The other woman said she was a university student working in Brown's office when he sexually assaulted her at his home in 2013. CTV did not identify the women.
Brown, 39 and single, called a hasty news conference just minutes before the CTV report aired. An emotional Brown vowed to fight. He called the allegations troubling but false and suggested he would sue.
"I know that the court of public opinion moves fast," Brown said. "I've instructed my attorneys to ensure that these allegations are where they should be, in a court of law. In short I reject these accusations in the strongest possible terms. It's not my values. It's now how I was raised. It's not who I am."
He did not take any questions. Journalists chased Brown as he fled the provincial legislature and jumped into a waiting van.
Moments later his campaign manager, chief of staff and deputy campaign manager issued a joint statement announcing they had quit.
"Earlier today, all three of us became aware of allegations about Patrick Brown. After speaking with him, our advice was that he should resign as PC party leader. He did not accept that advice. Since our view is that this advice was in the best interest of the PC party, we have therefore resigned," the statement said.
In his later resignation statement, Brown said he would stay on as a member of the legislature while he "definitively" clears his name.
Many political analysts had expected Brown to become the next premier of Ontario after years of rule by the Liberal Party. The election is a little more than four months away.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Liberal politician, said she was shocked and shaken by the allegations. She called the women brave.
The Progressive Conservatives deputy leader, Sylvia Jones, said party leaders had not heard rumors of improper behavior by Brown before the news report.
"Clearly this is a shock. None of us knew," Jones said.
She said Brown could not continue with the election fast approaching, but no decision had been made on naming a new leader.
Jones later apologized for referring to the allegations and Brown's denial as a "hiccup" for the party.
"It was a very long press conference, I misspoke and I apologize," Jones tweeted.
The scandal is another #MeToo moment. The movement has been credited with unveiling widespread sexual abuse and misconduct across the globe.