On the evening of June 26, 5,000 Progressive Conservatives descended on a Scarborough recreation centre with a 400-person capacity to vote for their candidate in the local nomination race.
By 9 p.m., police had arrived at the normally calm site on what they called a "disorderly" call. Filled to bursting, the halls of the Ellesmere Community Centre echoed with shouts as hundreds remained past the close of the vote to try to cast a ballot while a line snaked out the door.
Smartphone videos of the chaos show officers yelling at full volume: "Outside! Clear the door!" Some Tories are seen running through the gymnasium where votes were cast while others clutch ballot boxes as party members argue over what to do with them.
In the wake of another messy PC nomination meeting, the City of Toronto sent a reproachful letter to the Scarborough Centre association board that complained of "issues of crowd control, violence, threats and intimidation."
Despite the turbulence, the Scarborough Centre nomination was among the first to come under the watch of a private sector auditing firm. PC Leader Patrick Brown hired PricewaterhouseCoopers in May to clamp down on alleged irregularities and ease concerns over allegations of "fraudulent behaviour," including ballot-box tampering, in controversial contests from Ottawa West-Nepean to Newmarket-Aurora and Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.
But a 16-page report by PwC on the Scarborough Centre nomination makes no mention of police. It gives no hint of the "chaos" referenced by the city nor of any "threats … and observed voter fraud” alleged by the majority of the PCs’ Scarborough Centre board in a letter to party brass.
Instead, the report lays out a list of agreed-upon procedures — such as observing that party members' names are highlighted on the voters' list once they've shown identification — and notes whether any exceptions to the procedures occurred. Most variations appear minor (names weren't highlighted at two of seven voting tables, but signatures were obtained instead, for example) but lack any broader context about what they mean or how they might relate to the chaos that occurred at the meeting.
The report, obtained by QP Briefing, states that PwC had “not been engaged to validate election results.” That stands in apparent contrast to repeated remarks from Brown that PwC was hired to validate or "certify" the nominations. “They do certify our process. I said I want PwC to certify the process that we have for nominations and the voting and the counting of those votes," he told QP Briefing Wednesday.
What Brown has touted as a "gold standard" nomination safeguard may be more of a faded bronze, some disaffected party members say.
'You are responsible'
A letter from PwC to Tony Miele, chairman of the PC Ontario Fund, which manages the party's cash, outlines the company's function in observing and reporting on nomination votes. “In agreeing to perform the procedures, we have made no attempt to assess the sufficiency and appropriateness for your purposes; as such an assessment is your responsibility,” states the May 20 letter, obtained by QP Briefing.
“You are responsible for the procedures to be performed and for ensuring these are sufficient for your intended purpose.”
Last week, Brown put it this way: “Ultimately it’s up to me to sign the nominee’s form, and I said I want PwC to give me that assurance. That’s been a policy I’ve taken."
“I’m glad that it’s public that we have this additional oversight ... The fact that we’ve now set the gold standard for having additional oversight at nominations is something that hopefully other parties can adopt,” he said Wednesday, when asked if he was concerned that his party's confidential documents had been leaked to the press.
That aligns with previous statements by Brown stressing the "gold-standard," above-board procedures the global firm would supposedly bring to "certified" meetings, which have sometimes been described as “undemocratic” and tainted by “irregularities.”
The email to Miele states PwC charges at least $5,000 per nomination meeting. With more than 40 nominations to go when the arrangement was drawn up, that amounts to at least $200,000 scooped from the party war chest into the firm’s account.PwC report on Scarborough Centre nomination meeting
Duff Conacher, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of Democracy Watch, a group that advocates election reform, said the hired guns have no firepower when they’re accountable primarily to the party, rather than an independent commission or set of standards.
“I don’t think it’s an effective substitute … because they are on contract to the party headquarters. That means if party headquarters wants to hide anything from those reports, they could probably do so,” Conacher said.
“It fools most people into thinking there is a safeguard and a check.”
Instead of internal controls, Democracy Watch is calling for nomination contests to be legislated and overseen by Elections Ontario.
Dissent in the ranks
The party's use of PwC frustrated some Tories who called it a "mockery" of independent oversight, and elicited rueful chuckles in others.
John Mykytyshyn, a PC political strategist with a long history at both the provincial and federal levels, called the strict limits on what PwC was commissioned to report “improper, unusual.”
“That report doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to solving the problem. It’s making more problems,” he said, calling it "laughable."
Mykytyshyn said the fallout from alleged nomination irregularities could mean a slow bleed of party support, despite recent polls showing these kinds of “inside-baseball” accusations have little impact on voters.
“Every time a mistake is made without corrective action, then damage is done," he said, adding with a smile: "There’s an old axiom that goes: Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.”
Raphael Rosch, a Scarborough Centre board member who resigned due to "loss of confidence in Patrick Brown" following the nomination vote, sees the move to enlist the respected global auditing firm as little more than a media line.
“PwC’s job is just to show up. They don’t actually do anything. They don’t take charge. They don’t say anything. They’re just present,” Rosch said.
“PwC was just hired because it sounds good for the party to say we’ve got this big company doing oversight and making sure everything’s okay,” he claimed.
A joint internal appeal of the Scarborough Centre results by nomination candidates Antonio Villarin and Christina Mitas is ongoing, Mitas said.
Jim Karahalios, co-founder of the Take Back Our PC Party group, said Brown “is like the pot calling the kettle black.”
“It makes a mockery of our party’s attempt to present an ethical alternative to a corrupt Liberal government in Ontario,” he said.
Brown framed the nomination tumult as "a good problem to have," stressing the overwhelming number of new party members that have swarmed meetings. Membership has grown exponentially to about 127,000 Tories since 2014, the PCs say, with a surge of would-be candidates coming out of the woodwork.
"In Scarborough Centre, just like in other ridings, we’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer interest in being candidates for our party," he said. "If incidents that you can’t foresee don’t affect the process, then you’d have to ask PwC why they wouldn’t include that in the report."
PwC and PC party president Rick Dykstra declined to comment on questions from QP Briefing around the Scarborough Centre report and the broader contract.
PwC noted in its report the ballot-counting process was performed off-site, three days later, at PC headquarters in Toronto and a handful of members who'd been unable to vote at the raucous meeting on June 26, voted that day.