Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he doesn’t believe his chief of staff, Dean French, intervened to have a former Progressive Conservative aide fired at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) – but says he hasn’t asked.
Under questioning from reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Ford said he doesn’t believe a recent report in The Globe and Mail that outlined, through party sources, how Mr. French personally reached out to the head of the board at OPG and asked that Alykhan Velshi be removed from the executive role he started this fall.
“You’re accusing him on doing something that I don’t believe he did,” said Mr. Ford, flanked by five of his cabinet ministers. “I don’t believe at all that he did that.”
But when asked if he questioned Mr. French about it, Mr. Ford replied: “I haven’t yet. ... Maybe I will.”
“It’s not at the top of my priority. We have so many things coming at us every single day from every single ministry. My focus is on turning this financial mess that we inherited around. Things like this, it’s not on my radar, to be very frank.”
Mr. Ford added that he has “100 per cent” confidence in Mr. French.
“I have trust in my chief of staff. I think he has integrity, he’s honest,” Mr. Ford said.
“You won’t find a harder-working person, and I know the ministers will agree with me. He’s going until one o’clock in the morning, he’s up at five o’clock. He doesn’t stop. It’s constant. And he’s getting hit from 50 different directions.”
Mr. Ford’s comments come as Mr. French is facing increasing scrutiny regarding his conduct at Queen’s Park. On Tuesday, NDP MPP Peter Tabuns asked the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) to take steps to begin an investigation into the OPG for its firing of Mr. Velshi, who previously worked as chief of staff to former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown.
In a letter to Maureen Jensen, chair and chief executive officer of the OSC, Mr. Tabuns said Mr. French’s request to OPG board chair Bernard Lord to have Mr. Velshi terminated violates the norms of corporate governance at the energy utility. The action could reportedly cost up to $500,000 in severance, Mr. Tabuns wrote. “Interference with the executive governance of a major energy company is extremely serious,” he wrote.
Mr. Ford said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” for the NDP to ask for an investigation. “But that’s up to them. I can’t stop them.”
The Globe and Mail reported last week that instead of immediately showing Mr. Velshi the door, the OPG has kept him on as vice-president of corporate affairs and community relations until his termination formally takes effect. That date is not known, along with what kind of severance he might be entitled to.
Mr. Velshi began working as chief of staff to Mr. Brown in March, 2017. He resigned in January, along with two other top staffers, the night Mr. Brown was forced to step down as leader amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr. Brown has denied the allegations. Mr. Velshi immediately assumed the same role for interim PC leader Victor Fedeli until March, when Mr. Ford succeeded Mr. Brown.