Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s legal salvo against former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown’s tell-all political memoir sheds light on how a workplace sexual harassment complaint was handled by the party and Premier Doug Ford last year.
The finance minister — who is suing Brown and his publisher for $8 million in a defamation case — says in a statement of reply that he did not learn of a complaint of improper behaviour made against him until days after a female staffer was first told her job was being cut because of the party’s precarious financial state under Brown.
“It was only then that the complainant alleged, for the first time to Fedeli’s knowledge, that Fedeli had engaged in improper conduct of a sexual nature toward her,” says the statement. The statement of reply is a response to claims made in Brown’s statement of defence. Fedeli’s statement of claim was filed in January.
The reply document filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice suggests the unnamed woman made the complaint as a ploy to get a bigger severance package. The reply statement flatly denies Fedeli engaged in “inappropriate behaviour” with her as alleged in Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown, calling the book “a vindictive attack on Fedeli’s character.”
None of the allegations have been tested in court.
The revelations come as the finance minister is preparing to deliver the Ford government’s first budget on April 11, laying out the premier’s course for eliminating annual deficits over the coming years.
Fedeli’s lawyers also say in the statement that Brown — who was elected mayor of Brampton last fall — has no proof of a handwritten complaint about Fedeli allegedly left on his desk when Brown was PC leader in December 2017.
“Brown has advised through his counsel that the complaint is no longer in Brown’s possession, control, or power.”
The statement of reply, dated March 20, goes on to say the woman was “distraught” when called in late January 2018 — after Brown resigned as party leader — and told by a senior official her employment was being axed. Brown quit as leader amid allegations of sexual misconduct with two young woman in a CTV News report he denies.
The woman was called again by a party official around Feb. 6 and given more details of her termination package and mentioned “for the first time to Fedeli’s knowledge that Fedeli had engaged in improper conduct of a sexual nature toward her,” the statement says.
“She claimed that she was entitled to more money than (she) was being offered…and that her lawyer was going to initiate a claim for wrongful dismissal, which would include a claim of sexual harassment.”
Fedeli, who was then the party’s interim leader after Brown’s exit, “suspected the complainant was supportive of Brown as she (and others close to her) was associated with his supporters,” says the statement of reply.
As previously reported, Ford ordered PC caucus services, which provides support to MPPs, to arrange an independent, third-party investigation of the woman’s allegations. The investigation determined there was “no evidence” to support her claims.
The Tories have refused to release the report and Ford defended Fedeli as “a man with honour” amid calls from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath for him to step aside after Brown’s book was released in November.
“There was a thorough third-party investigation. There wasn’t a shred of evidence whatsoever,” the premier said in the legislature.
Fedeli’s statement of reply said the allegation issue was dormant for a couple of months until the woman’s lawyer contacted PC caucus services on June 6, the day before the provincial election, and “proposed a settlement of all complaints.”
This led to discussions between lawyers on both sides with the woman agreeing “to settle all of her claims in full…no proceeding was ever commenced,” the statement says.
The statement of reply did not reveal any details of the deal.
“While Fedeli was not involved in the settlement, Fedeli believes that no amount was paid to the complainant on account of her unfounded allegation of sexual harassment,” it concludes.
Brown has launched an $8 million lawsuit against CTV for its reporting about him. The network says it stands by its story.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1