Patrick Brown is giving up his quest to reclaim the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
He confirmed the news on Twitter Monday with a lengthy statement saying he was leaving the race to protect family and friends from "attacks," to avoid being a distraction, and to focus on holding CTV News "accountable" for the story that first caused him to resign as PC leader.
Brown stepped down in late January after two women accused him of sexual misconduct in a CTV News report. He denied the allegations as total fabrications and reportedly filed a notice of libel to CTV last week.
Less than two weeks ago, Brown made the stunning decision to enter the race to find his replacement. The move came on the same day that the party's interim leader Vic Fedeli booted Brown, the MPP for Simcoe North, from the PC caucus.
In his statement, Brown said "the lack of journalistic integrity demonstrated by CTV News led to an instant execution without a trial." CTV News stands by its journalism.
Brown said competing in the race would distract him "from continuing to expose the truth and holding CTV accountable for their willingness to allow the level of professional journalism to descend into the realm of tabloid gossip."
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The MPP said that lifelong friends and colleagues were subject to attacks as soon as he entered the contest.
"Political adversaries, collaborating with the media through an endless supply of rumours and innuendo, will stop at nothing to preserve their own self-interests as long as I am in the race," he said.
"It has been gut-wrenching to see my own family in tears, pushed to the edge, even suffering anxiety and panic attacks requiring medical intervention as a result of this experience."
Brown also said the experience was difficult for his partner, who "ended up on the front page of the Toronto Star."
The Star ran a story last week featuring comments from Genevieve Gualtieri, Brown's 23-year-old girlfriend who worked in his Parliament Hill office when he was a Conservative MP and later at Queen's Park.
It has been gut-wrenching to see my own family in tears, pushed to the edge, even suffering anxiety and panic attacks requiring medical intervention as a result of this experience.Patrick Brown
Brown said in the release that the couple never dated while she briefly worked at Queen's Park for another MPP or travelled together when she worked there. He added it has been "too much of a blow to see someone I love unwillingly exposed and attacked."
Brown also noted that while he entered the race to "finish the job" and stand up to those who wanted him gone, the move has distracted Tories from the goal of beating Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government.
He complimented each of the remaining candidates and asked them to put forward thoughtful policy.
Brown dogged by questions about management
Brown warned supporters last week that party "insiders" were trying to derail his campaign after questions were raised about a $375,000 deal he reportedly discussed with a man who would go on to be acclaimed as a PC candidate. The party's membership numbers under Brown's leadership are also under scrutiny.
PC MPP Randy Hillier asked Ontario's integrity commissioner to look into Brown's personal finances and travel, accusing his former leader of "dirty and crooked politics.'' Brown hit back that Hillier's accusations were "entirely fictional." The ethics watchdog announced Monday, however, that he will investigate the complaint.
Earlier Monday, The Toronto Star reported that Brown told party officials last year to "get me the result I want" in a nomination battle in the riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas that is being investigated by police.
Brown's entry into the race was not greeted warmly by the candidates vying for the job: lawyer Caroline Mulroney, former MPP Christine Elliott, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford and social conservative activist Tanya Granic Allen.
Last week, Mulroney called on the PC leadership contenders to unite in calling for Brown to leave the contest.
On Monday, Mulroney tweeted that Brown had "done the right thing."
"I know what it means when political involvement takes a toll on the people you care about the most," she said. "Now more than ever, we need to move forward without these distractions. Patrick has done the right thing.
Brown's exit comes ahead of a leadership debate in Ottawa Wednesday, hosted by HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj. The new PC leader will be announced on March 10.
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With a file from The Canadian Press