Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he dealt swiftly with a patronage scandal that has enveloped his office, but refused to answer questions about whether he pushed his former chief of staff to quit.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since Dean French resigned more than two weeks ago, Mr. Ford said he acted “pretty quickly" after it was revealed that Mr. French had personal ties to two government appointees. But the Ontario Premier dismissed queries about his former chief of staff’s departure as being “into the weeds.”
“Let’s be very clear: Dean French is no longer there. We changed our chief of staff,” Mr. Ford said in Calgary, where he was meeting with premiers from Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories ahead of a larger meeting in Saskatoon later this week.
“We’re moving forward. My goal is to focus on our economy, not about getting into the weeds and what the media likes to do 99 per cent of the time.”
Mr. French resigned from his top post in Mr. Ford’s office on June 21 after it was revealed that two people with personal ties to the former chief of staff were given lucrative foreign appointments, including a former lacrosse player who is friends with Mr. French’s son. Both of those appointments have been revoked.
Upon his departure from government, other appointments with connections to Mr. French were uncovered, including Andrew Suboch, chair of the Justices of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee, who is a friend of Mr. French. Mr. Ford’s office has since launched a review of government appointments.
Ontario’s strategic transformation adviser, Peter Fenwick, was also fired last week after a report in the Toronto Star emerged that he had long-time ties to Mr. French. His office was also dissolved.
Mr. Ford said people in Alberta and Ontario aren’t concerned about the actions of his former chief of staff.
“Do you really think when I walk down the street in Alberta people worry about Dean French?” Mr. Ford said. “They don’t worry about the stuff that the media worries about. They worry about, can they put food on the table, can they pay the mortgage."
Jamie Wallace, a former top Toronto Sun newspaper executive who served as deputy chief of staff, has taken over as interim chief of staff.
Mr. Ford’s critics in the Opposition accused him of ducking questions about the patronage scandal.
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak repeated his party’s call to allow a legislative committee to review all of the government’s appointments.
“Doug Ford has been hiding out instead of taking responsibility for the patronage appointment scandal that has rocked his government,” Mr. Natyshak said in an e-mailed statement.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Mr. Ford should respond to the “very questionable behaviour” in his government.
“The Premier’s refusal to answer questions regarding Dean French today demonstrates a lack of respect for the people of Ontario, the very people whose interests he was elected to represent,” Mr. Fraser said.
With a report from Jeff Gray.
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