At least five female Progressive Conservative staffers received sexually inappropriate texts with photos attached from a former top aide to Premier Doug Ford, sources told the Star.
Complaints about late-night messages from Andrew Kimber, Ford’s executive director of issues management and legislative affairs — including pictures of him in underwear — led to his sudden departure last Friday morning.
Breaking his silence for the first time since the allegations surfaced, Kimber said in a Twitter statement Thursday that he is sorry for his “unacceptable” conduct.
“I unreservedly apologize for the pain I have caused others by my recent actions,” he wrote.
“Everyone has the right to live and work free from harassment, and I’m sorry for those who I have hurt. I am also sorry to my friends and colleagues in the Ford government and the disservice I brought to the office,” Kimber added.
The texts from Kimber, who until recently occupied one of the top positions in the premier’s office, began during last spring’s Ontario election campaign and continued until recently, several sources said. They suggested alcohol was a contributing factor.
With Kimber in a key job, the power imbalance between him and the subjects of his texts grew wider, raising deeper concerns about the unwanted missives, Conservative sources said.
The texts were first flagged by one complainant before four more came forward, one insider told the Star.
“He lasted about a minute when we found out,” said Ford, who has offered to arrange counselling services for any staff requesting it.
Kimber’s departure was not mentioned in any press release. Associates said he is travelling abroad this week.
Ironically, Kimber was ousted last Friday shortly after telling superiors in the premier’s office about an allegation that former economic development minister Jim Wilson made a sexually inappropriate remark to a male staffer the night before, Conservative party sources said Thursday.
“As soon as I found out, within hours, they were done, they were gone,” Ford said earlier this week in his first comments about the scandals. An independent firm has been hired to investigate the complaints.
Wilson’s resignation from cabinet and the PC caucus, submitted at the request of Ford, was announced in a press release Nov. 2 at dinnertime after a dramatic day behind closed doors in the premier’s office. Earlier that day, Wilson, a veteran minister from the previous Harris and Eves governments, Ford, then-transportation minister John Yakabuski and Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey were in Sarnia to announce the first “open for business” border sign.
Unbeknownst to Wilson, officials had begun setting the wheels in motion during the Sarnia trip.
The premier defended his initial decision not to say Wilson was leaving because of a sexual misconduct complaint, instead approving a press release stating only that the minister had quit to seek addiction treatment, because he wanted to shield accusers of the two men from media attention.
Following the sign unveiling, the premier and ministers toured the local raceway and held a round-table discuss with Sarnia-area business leaders before returning to Toronto, where Ford remained tight-lipped for days. He shuffled his cabinet early Monday morning to replace Wilson, moved Yakabuski to natural resources and forestry and did not make any public comments until Tuesday.
“I have zero tolerance for this behaviour,” he told reporters Wednesday in an air force museum at CFB Trenton. “I want to make sure that every single person on our team at Queen’s Park knows they’re going to have a safe environment.”
When confronted with the staffer’s allegation by the premier’s office officials in Toronto, Wilson said he could not remember making any inappropriate remarks, said Conservative sources.
Wilson has not replied to repeated requests for comment from the Star. He has entered a rehab facility for alcohol addiction.
At Queen’s Park, interim Liberal leader John Fraser wondered why it took so long for Ford to act but said the premier has since explained himself.
“I think the air is cleared,” said Fraser.
But Fraser said the government should have been “straightforward and transparent” last Friday instead of issuing a statement that proved to only be half of the story.
Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh called the statement a “lie of omission” and accused Ford of trying to cover up the scandal.
“Protecting a victim of sexual misconduct is the right thing to do. Protecting a powerful man accused of sexual misconduct isn’t. Pretending that those things are at odds with each other is wrong,” Singh said in a statement.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie