02/03/2018 16:14 EST | Updated 02/06/2018 03:01 EST

Interim PC leader says party has fewer members than previously claimed

TORONTO — The interim leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party says the Tories have just over 133,000 members — some 67,000 fewer than claimed by former leader Patrick Brown less than a month ago.

In an e-mail to the PC caucus obtained by The Canadian Press, Vic Fedeli says checks of the party's membership system this week turned up the discrepancy.

"Given recent events and current uncertainties, I want caucus and candidates to be provided added visibility into recent internal Party decisions and various facts as I understand them to be," Fedeli said in the email.

In a detailed timeline of the events following Brown's sudden resignation on Jan. 25, Fedeli said party IT workers shut down the Tories' membership management system to protect member information.

"This was the right decision to take at the time, notwithstanding the fact it was done without the explicit support of the then-Executive Director," Fedeli said. "I already have thanked our IT officials for the initiative and courage they showed to protect the Party."

In early January, Brown said the party's membership had swollen to more than 200,000 people across the province.

Fedeli said that while the system was down, the IT workers began to update the database with a variety of new information, including current Elections Ontario voters lists. They also ran all records through the National Change of Address database and sorted members according to 2017 riding boundaries.

"These important steps will ensure we have accurate riding information for the upcoming leadership race and the 2018 general election," Fedeli said. 

After the updates, two subsequent reports from the database showed lower membership totals than the previously published figures, allowing Fedeli's office to "get a straight, unvarnished answer," he said.

Fedeli said his staff have also begun to review a number of financial arrangements the party had in place under the previous leader "with a view towards reducing unnecessary expenses."

While not identifying the individuals or companies involved, Fedeli tells caucus that the party has ended monthly payments to one nominated candidate, monthly payments to a pair of regional organizers and given "greater scrutiny" to some contracts with vendors.

That review continues, he said.

"My most important priority as Party leader is to hand over to the winner of the upcoming leadership race a strong, clean, and ethical PC Party for them to take into the next election," Fedeli said in the email. 

Earlier this week, the 61-year-old Fedeli made a surprise announcement that he would not seek the permanent leadership of the PC Party, opting instead to "root out the rot" as interim leader.

The turmoil within the party started when Brown resigned after CTV News reported allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by two women. Brown vehemently denies the allegations, which The Canadian Press has not independently verified.

Last weekend, the party announced an executive director position, two deputy chief of staff positions, a party adviser position, and a number of junior and mid-level jobs were being eliminated.

Hours later, party president Rick Dykstra resigned before Maclean's reported sexual assault allegations against the former federal Conservative MP. Dykstra has denied the allegations, which have not been independently verified by The Canadian Press.