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Wynne, Brown in standoff over PC Leader's remarks on bribery trial

Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, speaks to reporters at the Ontario Legislature on April 5, 2016.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's premier and Opposition leader are sticking to their guns in a dispute that could lead to legal action.

Premier Kathleen Wynne's lawyers wrote a letter to Patrick Brown on Wednesday asking that he withdraw comments he made about her suggesting she is personally on trial — or face a defamation lawsuit.

The Progressive Conservative leader said Thursday he is ignoring the premier's request. When asked why he won't retract his comments, Brown repeated that it was a "sad day for Ontario" to see Wynne testify in a trial involving two Liberals.

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"No one wants to see a sitting premier debased," he said. "I think it's important that we move on."

Brown called the legal threat "baseless," even though Wynne previously sued the previous Progressive Conservative leader.

"Her baseless legal threats will be ignored," he said.

Wynne, speaking to The Canadian Press in Washington, D.C., wouldn't say whether she will proceed with a lawsuit.

"We'll see what happens," she said. "My letter stands. It speaks for itself."

Her lawyers are discussing the next steps, Wynne said.

Jack Siegel, Wynne's lawyer, called Brown's response "extremely disappointing."

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"Fair political criticism is one thing, but as a public figure himself, one might have thought that he would recognize that untruths that defame another politician are unacceptable," Siegel said in a statement.

Brown's office had previously suggested he misspoke. Siegel questioned why Brown wouldn't just retract the comments if he just misspoke.

"Mr. Brown's refusal to take that simple step therefore suggests that this was not an accident and that his remarks were deliberately made with the intention of harming the reputation of the premier," Siegel wrote.

At issue are comments Brown made about the premier's role in a Liberal bribery trial.

The letter sent to Brown said he told reporters Tuesday that Wynne was standing trial, when in fact she is not on trial or even under investigation, but is offering voluntary testimony.

It was made public moments before Wynne took the witness stand at the trial in Sudbury, Ont., where her former deputy chief of staff and a local Liberal are facing bribery charges under the Election Act.

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This is the second time in a week that the Liberal government has threatened legal action over remarks made by a Progressive Conservative member of the provincial legislature about the Sudbury trial.

Last week, Bill Walker told a local radio station Wynne was under investigation and facing charges in connection with the bribery trial. He issued a statement apologizing for the remarks.

Wynne previously sued former Conservative leader Tim Hudak and another Tory member of provincial parliament after the pair said she oversaw — and possibly ordered — the destruction of documents related to two cancelled gas plants.

That lawsuit was resolved in 2015, though it is not known whether it was settled or withdrawn.

Two ex-staffers under former premier Dalton McGuinty are on trial on those allegations.

Video: Kathleen Wynne arrives to testify at bribery trial (The Canadian Press)
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