Ford government making 'all the mistakes' communicating sexual misconduct scandal, says professor

The provincial government is making "all the mistakes" of crisis communication following the MPP Jim Wilson's sexual misconduct scandal, according to a University of Windsor political science professor.

"The golden standard is that if there's a controversy or crisis with your party or your brand, you give full disclosure as much as you can to the public," said Lydia Miljan. "It avoids [turning] a one-day story becoming a three-week story."

On Nov. 2, a provincial government spokesperson said Ontario Progressive Conservative legislator Jim Wilson resigned from cabinet and the Tory caucus "to seek treatment for addiction issues."

Dale Molnar/CBC

Three days later, however, CBC News learned he actually stepped down after allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour were levelled against him.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford later said he withheld the allegations to protect the staffer who made the complaint. But for Mijan, she said Ford's reasoning for hiding the allegations — that he wanted to protect the alleged victim — just "doesn't wash."

"Clearly, they would've been still protected had they made it clear that that's what the nature of the allegation was, so it's  a poor job of communicating a very topic right now," she said.

Reshuffling the cabinet

Following Wilson's departure, Ford shuffled his months-old cabinet early Monday.

Among the biggest changes involved rookie MPP Michael Tibollo, whose tenure as Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services came to a short end when his position was switched with Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Sylvia Jones.

For Miljan, the move is a "head-scratcher" since Tibollo's run as minister was marred in controversy. Most recently, reports surfaced that Tibollo was criticized by the Ontario Securities Commission for his actions as a lawyer in the 1990s related to a $30 million stock fraud.  

"He should be demoted to the back bench and give somebody else a chance who has a more clear record to have a shot at cabinet," she said, adding for a lot of positions, he just "swapped" ministers.

Miljan said party solidarity exists because of back bench MPs who "play nice" and "do what the leaders say" with the expectation of eventually having a shot at cabinet.

By shuffling the cabinet, instead of offering those positions to new people, Miljan believes the move could hurt long-term party solidarity moving forward.

"If I were on the back bench, I'd be thinking, 'What do I have to do to get that kind of loyalty from the Premier? Here's a guy who has a cloud over his head and he gets to keep a cabinet position where I'm doing all the right things and I'm not moving forward?' So that could gives him trouble in the future."

All parties struggle with transparency, Miljan says

"When there's a crisis, you have to tell the public as much information as you can. All political parties are struggling with this," said Miljan.

One example she points to is the Liberal government under the leadership of former premier Kathleen Wynne, which was asked to hand over documents as part of an investigation into Liberal government finances.

"The golden standard is that if there's a controversy or crisis with your party or your brand, you give full disclosure as much as you can to the public." - University of Windsor political science professor Lydia Miljan on the PC government's handling of the Jim Wilson scandal

"It's not comfortable to have to deal with these things, but you have to get ahead of it and you have to give us as much information as possible without changing your story, because you lose credibility," said Miljan.

She added the Ford government's best course of action is to be "more forthright and open," rather than controlling the message through its own media channels.

Hear the full interview with Lydia Miljan on the CBC's Windsor Morning: