Premier Doug Ford must order an independent investigation into a 2017 sexual harassment allegation against Finance Minister Vic Fedeli and ask him to temporarily step down, says NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Horwath said the accusation, detailed in a new book by former PC leader Patrick Brown, cannot go ignored.
But Ford told the legislature Thursday the matter was previously investigated by a third party, and “zero evidence came out; there wasn’t a shred of evidence.”
Fedeli, speaking to reporters later in the day after unveiling his first fall economic statement, called the allegation “false and malicious,” adding he has “retained legal counsel and will take whatever action is necessary to hold any person making these false accusations” accountable. He repeatedly refused to take further questions on the issue.
Horwath, however, said “there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered, and people in Ontario deserve the answers.
“We have a cabinet minister — really one of the top cabinet positions — who is implicated in this situation and it really begs the questions about Mr. Ford’s choices when it comes to his cabinet ministers.”
In the legislature, PC MPPs — both male and female — wore yellow ties in a show of support of Fedeli, a signature accessory for the politician who represents Nipissing and is a former mayor of North Bay.
Government House Leader Todd Smith later said that reporters in the Queen’s Park press gallery were aware of an accusation against Fedeli months ago, “and refused to report on them because they knew in their hearts that these were baseless allegations.”
Brown’s new book, Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown says that a female staffer “accused Fedeli of inappropriate behaviour” last year. She did not pursue a formal complaint.
(Brown himself was ousted as Tory leader in January after CTV News broadcast allegations of sexual misconduct involving two women. He has launched an $8 million lawsuit against the network, which stands by its reporting.)
Ford tweeted Wednesday that he stands behind Fedeli “completely from this disgusting smear campaign. He has my full support.”
MPP Randy Hiller put it more bluntly: “It’s all bull–, period.”
Last week in Trenton, addressing sexual misconduct accusations that prompted the ouster of cabinet minister Jim Wilson and top Ford aide Andrew Kimber on Nov. 2, the premier told reporters he has “zero tolerance for this behaviour.”
“I want to make sure that every single person on our team at Queen’s Park know they’re going to have a safe environment,” Ford added, adding “we acted decisive” in the two cases and launched investigations by an independent company.
“As soon as I found out, within hours they were gone, they were done,” the premier said.
Wilson was asked to resign cabinet and the PC caucus after being accused of sexual impropriety by a male staffer while Kimber, who was Ford’s executive director of issues management and legislative affairs, left over allegations he texted at least five female PC staff — including one unidentified MPP — sexually inappropriate messages including pictures of him in a thong.
Meanwhile, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod spoke out about comments concerning her mental health struggles in Brown’s book — comments that have been widely criticized, especially from mental-health advocates.
Brown claims organizers in eastern Ontario — MacLeod is the MPP for Nepean — believe she faked her depression to garner public sympathy.
MacLeod told reporters that “that man decided to write a book and try to undermine my mental health. That is wrong. Anybody who comes forward in disclosing their mental health should be treated with care and encouraged, and thanked.”
“Mental health is not a laughing matter — it is a very important matter,” she also said.
Ford tweeted that those comments in Brown’s book are “dangerous and cruel.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1