Caroline Mulroney says Patrick Brown would be allowed to run for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives if she becomes party leader, provided he "can clear his name."
Mulroney made the remark during the first PC leadership debate Thursday, hosted by TVO. Her position echoes rival Christine Elliott, who opened the door to signing Brown's nomination papers at an event last weekend.
Doug Ford, however, suggested during the debate that he doesn't have enough facts yet to make a decision about Brown, who stepped down as PC leader last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Ford: 'The story is changing day by day, hour by hour'
Debate moderator Steve Paikin noted Brown's much-discussed interviews with Global TV this week, during which he denied all allegations of impropriety levied against him by two young women in a bombshell report by CTV News last month.
Paikin asked Ford, Mulroney and new social conservative candidate Tanya Granic Allen if they would make the same commitment as Elliott when it comes to Brown.
Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, said he wasn't prepared to "litigate" the issue in front of the media.
"The story is changing day by day, hour by hour," Ford said. "When I am leader, I'll get all the facts, I'll sit down with Patrick and we'll make a decision then."
CTV originally reported that one of the accusers said she was in high school and under the legal drinking age when she alleges Brown provided her with alcohol and asked her for oral sex at his home 10 years ago. This week, CTV reported the woman now says she was not under the legal drinking age or in high school at the time of the alleged event.
The unnamed woman says the core of her allegations is unchanged and a second accuser also stands by her story to CTV. Brown tried to discredit the report in his first TV interview since resigning by pointing at what he claims are other inconsistencies. Brown wrote on Facebook Thursday that he will sue CTV News.
Granic Allen said she was shocked at how the other candidates would be willing to treat Brown, but not because of the misconduct accusations.
"He should not run and, again, not because of the allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him but because of the corruption, the corrupt manner in which he has run this party into the ground," she said.
'Patrick is working hard to clear his name'
Granic Allen, an outspoken critic of Ontario's sex ed curriculum, blasted Brown throughout the debate for bullying grassroots members and for riding nomination controversies that have dogged the party.
Paikin also asked the leadership hopefuls to weigh in on Brown's apparent suggestion that political adversaries within his party wanted him removed. The candidates seemed reluctant to discuss if they feel forces within the party contributed to Brown's exit.
"What does it matter?" Granic Allen asked. "At the end of the day we have a party that is left in tatters because of the way Patrick Brown ran it."
Paikin noted how PCs saw a rise in memberships, fundraising, and approval numbers under Brown's leadership.
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Elliott, a former MPP who resigned her seat shortly after losing the 2015 leadership race to Brown, said she has no idea what happened within the party because she wasn't there.
"I've been concentrating on this leadership race," Elliott said. "I know Patrick's trying to clear his name but I think the most important thing that we all have to remember is we need to select a leader who is going to win in this election."
Mulroney, a lawyer, added: "Patrick is working hard to clear his name."
There are great people in the party who want to make sure PCs are strong enough to win the provincial election on June 7, Mulroney said.
"The only way we can do that is if we elect a leader who can unify the party and bring in more people into the party," she said.
With a file from The Canadian Press