He was at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s side the day Mr. Ford admitted that he has indeed smoked crack cocaine. And he accompanied the mayor home in a cab on St. Patrick’s Day last year, after Mr. Ford allegedly shoved him into a doorway at his City Hall office during a drunken tirade, according to police documents.
Earl Provost, Mr. Ford’s chief of staff, has been steadfastly loyal to his boss throughout the crisis gripping the mayor’s office. The office has become known for its revolving door, with the exodus of nine staffers since May when it was revealed that Mr. Ford was captured on video apparently smoking crack cocaine. But Mr. Provost has stood by his boss.
Those close to Mr. Provost say he is driven by a strong sense of loyalty, not just to Mr. Ford but to the office of the mayor itself, including junior staffers.
“He is a consummate political professional,” said Mark Towhey, Mr. Provost’s predecessor and one of Mr. Ford’s closest advisers until he was fired last May. “I think Earl has a very strong sense of duty and is not willing to be seen to jump, even if it gets to the point of damaging his reputation.”
Mr. Provost declined to be interviewed for this story. As the most senior member of Mr. Ford’s staff, it is his job to control the message, and in recent weeks, the antics of his boss. That is often no easy task. He was told only minutes ahead of time, for instance, that Mr. Ford was going to publicly admit that he had smoked crack cocaine – something he had denied for months.
According to those close to Mr. Provost, he felt the controversy in the mayor’s office reached a nadir on Thursday, when Mr. Ford shocked everyone by using a slang word for women’s genitals. Mr. Ford’s comments were made a day after the police documents were released, which detailed concerns about the mayor’s behaviour. None of the allegations in the documents has been proven in court.
Mr. Provost believes “decorum must be upheld at all times,” said a long-time friend. He wears a suit and red tie to work every day. On Halloween last year, every staffer in the mayor’s office came to work dressed in “Earl” costumes. But even if Mr. Provost were to resign, said his friend, people would still “paint him with the Ford brush.”
The friend, who asked not be named, said Mr. Provost shows the same dedication in his professional life as he does in his personal life. When Mr. Provost gives a book to a friend, he said, it is signed by the author. “Earl is one of the most loyal friends you will ever find,” he said.
His sense of loyalty to Mr. Ford is equally strong, the friend said, even though the two have some ideological differences, given Mr. Provost’s connections to the federal Liberals. He was the Ontario leadership organizer for Paul Martin and director of parliamentary affairs for Joe Volpe.
Mr. Provost attended George Washington University in 2007, where he earned a graduate degree in political management. But after he returned to Canada, the friend said, he had trouble finding work with the Ontario Liberal government.
Mr. Provost landed back on his feet with Mr. Ford, serving as his deputy campaign manager in the 2010 mayoral race before moving to director of stakeholder and council relations. He briefly served as interim chief of staff in 2012 before officially getting the job in May of this year.
Mr. Provost may soon have a new boss. City council plans to take additional steps on Monday to neutralize the mayor after overwhelmingly supporting two motions on Friday to remove his ability to appoint standing committee chairs.
Regardless of what happens on Monday, Mr. Towhey said, he expects Mr. Provost to carry on.
“It’s fallen on his shoulders, and I don’t think he’s going to shirk that duty,” he said.
With a report from Elizabeth Church