Patrick Brown is running to reclaim leadership of the Ontario PC party with a last-minute entry into a race initially launched to replace him, as he continues to deny allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I think my name has been cleared, and it’s now about getting Ontario back on track,” Brown said Friday after he officially joined the race.

“This isn’t about me. This isn’t about the PC party. This is about making sure that on June 7, the Progressive Conservative party is successful.”

Brown stepped down from the job three weeks ago after CTV News reported sexual misconduct allegations against Brown by two women. Brown denies the allegations.

His departure triggered a leadership race within the PC party, which is hoping to unseat Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne in the upcoming provincial election.

Around 3 p.m. Friday, Brown silently walked past reporters and into a closed-door meeting at Ontario PC headquarters. The deadline to enter the race was 5 p.m.

Flanked by his two sisters, Brown left the meeting and confirmed his leadership bid, saying he “found strength” to run from family, friends and constituents who supported him.

Brown again denied the sexual misconduct allegations, calling the women’s accounts to CTV News “fictitious.” CTV News stands by its reporting.

“What I’ve gone through in the last three weeks, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” he said. “It’s like getting hit by a truck and then getting hit by a truck all over again.”

Brown’s under-the-wire entry comes on the same day he was kicked out of the PC caucus. He is expected to sit as an independent when Ontario legislature resumes on Tuesday.

The Barrie, Ont. politician’s bid widens the leadership race to five candidates: former MPP Christine Elliott, lawyer Caroline Mulroney, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, sex-ed opponent Tanya Granic Allen, and Brown.

Moments after Brown’s unexpected appearance at the headquarters, Mulroney tweeted that his leadership bid was a “distraction.”

“Our focus should remain squarely on beating Kathleen Wynne in less than 100 days. This is a distraction from that and I am disappointed,” Mulroney tweeted.

Ford also criticized the move, calling the PC party “objectively stronger without Patrick Brown.”

“As Patrick Brown said on the night he tenured his resignation to caucus, defeating Kathleen Wynne should be our only objective. Patrick Brown should focus on clearing his name,” Ford said in a statement.

Elliott reacted by calling for the party to embrace a united vision, led by her.

“With fewer than 100 days, now is a time for unity. I am the leader that can unite the party and beat Kathleen Wynne,” Elliott tweeted.

Brown shot back, saying some of the other candidates have reached out to ask for his support.

“I think every other leadership candidate -- I know certainly the main ones -- have been calling everyday trying to reach out for my support,” Brown said.

The major development comes after Brown was removed from his party’s caucus, interim leader Vic Fedeli confirmed Friday.

“Shortly after becoming interim leader, I asked Patrick Brown to step aside from the PC caucus,” Fedeli said in a statement. “Earlier today, Mr. Brown was notified that he has been removed from the PC caucus effective immediately.”

Brown’s leadership bid also comes amid confusion over whether he actually resigned as PC party leader.

Brown announced his resignation at 1:25 a.m. on Jan. 25, hours after CTV News reported on sexual misconduct allegations made by two young women. Brown has denied the allegations, which have not been proven in court, and also said during a broadcast interview on Thursday, that a resignation letter he had not seen in draft form was sent without his permission.

CTV News obtained audio of Brown’s conference call with caucus, during which he says he asked his director of communications to prepare a statement announcing his resignation.

Audio of the call was recorded by an unnamed PC MPP.

“This is character assassination. These are false allegations. I don’t want any of us to be set back on our mission to defeat Kathleen Wynne. I want nothing more to see you all successful in replacing this corrupt government,” Brown said on the recorded call. “I’ve asked Rebecca to prepare a statement that I will resign.”

Asked whether or not he ever officially resigned from the party’s top job, Brown dodged the question.

“I’m running for the leadership,” Brown told reporters outside the PC headquarters, adding that he will answer more questions at an event on Saturday.

Brown has said he plans to sue CTV over the reporting. The network has not been served with any lawsuit and CTV lawyers, contrary to what has been suggested, are not in negotiation with Brown’s lawyers.

The next PC leadership debate will be held later this month. The party will choose its next leader on March 10.

Statement from CTV News:

CTV News stands by our reporting and will actively defend against any legal action. We welcome the opportunity to defend our journalism in court. - Matthew Garrow, Director of Communications, CTV News