Premier Doug Ford’s government is tight-lipped about the scope of parallel investigations into allegations swirling around a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and a key aide.
Despite the premier’s pledge to increase transparency at Queen’s Park, the Tories have gone to ground since Friday’s surprise resignations of Jim Wilson, Ford’s most experienced minister, and Andrew Kimber, a top adviser.
That prompted New Democrat MPP Sara Singh to charge Tuesday the Tories were “misleading” Ontarians about what really happened by initially saying Wilson was leaving cabinet and the PC caucus to deal with addiction issues.
“It has now been five days since Doug Ford’s office released a media statement that tried to cover up the sexual misconduct allegations that now appear to be the actual cause of Jim Wilson’s exit,” said Singh (Brampton Centre).
“This is a lie by omission. There’s information that is being withheld,” she told reporters.
Indeed, other than Children, Community Services and Women’s Issues Minister Lisa MacLeod confirming Monday that “third party investigations started to take place immediately,” the government is saying little publicly about the two scandals.
“(With) the investigations our underlying principle is protect the identity of anyone who might have come forward,” Ford’s office said Tuesday.
The Conservatives, sworn in four months ago, have been paralyzed by the shocking departures of Wilson and Kimber.
Tory insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the loss of both men is especially difficult for Ford, who trusted their judgment and appreciated their experience.
The premier often sought their counsel when dissatisfied with the advice from some of the political novices in his office, sources told the Star.
“Doug likes to hear different points of view and has been reaching out beyond the usual crowd,” one high-ranking official confided.
But Ford’s increasing willingness to entertain other opinions appears to have stoked some internecine tensions.
Kimber, the premier’s executive director of issues management and legislative affairs, left Friday after it emerged that inappropriate texts had been sent to female Tory staffers in the past.
The allegations against him surfaced as his star was rising in the office and he was gaining Ford’s ear, which, sources say, left rivals feeling threatened.
But insiders insist it was purely coincidental that the exit of Wilson, whose chief of staff is Kimber’s wife, came on the same day.
Initially, Ford’s office said the minister had stepped down from cabinet and the Tory caucus on Friday “to seek treatment for addiction issues.”
While sources said the 28-year veteran MPP has indeed entered rehabilitation for alcohol, insiders have confirmed to the Star that his departure was triggered by a complaint Friday morning from a PC staffer.
The Tories, who were already concerned about the minister’s behaviour, took the matter seriously, moving quickly to act.
But in an unusual move, some ministers were assured Friday by a senior official that the “public story” would be the drinking, which is what was shared with the media, while the “real story” was the complaint by the male staffer.
Neither Wilson nor Kimber have returned messages seeking comment.
The premier’s office is refusing to disclose the nature of the allegations or who is probing them.
A cabinet shuffle triggered by the minister’s exit was held behind closed doors at Queen’s Park early Monday morning with the six shuffled ministers and Ford being swept out a side entrance to avoid reporters.
Underscoring the government’s reticence to comment further, on Tuesday, Environment Minister Rod Phillips was hastily swept away in a limousine after a speech at the University of Toronto after Tory aides spotted three journalists at the event.
Ford is expected to finally address the issue Wednesday during a public appearance near Trenton.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1