Late last night, Canadaland published an article reporting that Brian Lilley, a political columnist at the Toronto Sun covering federal and provincial politics, has been living with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s director of media relations, Ivana Yelich, since 2019. The Toronto Sun failed to disclose this potential conflict of interest to readers.
Thus far, most of the public backlash to this revelation has focused on Yelich and Lilley, as well as Ford’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Issues Management, Media Relations and Legislative Affairs, Cody Matthew Welton.
This is understandable given that Yelich and Lilley are at the heart of the story, and Welton (who was paid more than $170,000 to do his job in 2020) reacted to Canadaland editor Jonathan Goldsbie’s reporting by describing him as a “cave dweller of a human being who looks like he’s never had the physical embrace from a partner.”
Yet the problem here extends well beyond Yelich, Lilley or even the Toronto Sun’s editorial standards.
Goldsbie wrote, “The relationship between Lilley and Yelich has been something of an open secret at Queen’s Park, where neither has been especially shy about acknowledging it. Canadaland has spoken to six people who have been in situations in which Lilley or Yelich has brought it up, or in which it [sic] others have raised it in the presence of one of them.”
I’ve never worked at Queen’s Park, but know that reporters who do are well aware of much of the gossip that swirls around it. As such, it’s reasonable to believe that most if not all of the reporters there have been aware of Yelich and Lilley’s relationship. In fact, Frank even reported on this relationship — behind a paywall — in late 2019. This means that it’s not just Lilley that has failed readers — Queen’s Park reporters, and/or their editors, have as well.
Sure, some of these reporters may have been among Canadaland’s six sources. Regardless, it shouldn’t have been up to Canadaland to do the reporting. It also shouldn’t have taken more than two years for this information to become publicly reported on.
Moreover, a major reason we’re getting this story now is that someone who appears to be outside the journalism world spoke up.
Yesterday in the early afternoon, Simone Racanelli tweeted, “Enough is enough. Ivana [Yelich] is dating Brian Lilley. Why the hell do we continue to pretend that she’s able to perform her duties as director of media relations to the level of professionalism that Ontarians deserve? She has a clear conflict of interest.”
The tweet received hundreds of retweets. In a Twitter thread sharing his reporting, Goldsbie acknowledged that Racanelli’s “tweet pushed [him] to finally finish reporting this.”
I’m glad Racanelli shared this information, but it shouldn’t have fallen on her to break the news.
Yelich and Lilley deserve to face whatever heat is coming their way. Yet we shouldn’t ignore the broad failure of reporters at Queen’s Park to surface what is obviously news. This should remind us that there’s many stories they know that we don’t, even though their job is to tell us.
Ask your favourite Queen’s Park reporter if they knew about this story, and if they did, why they didn’t report on it. The least they can do is tell us that.