The Ontario government has declined a request to give a legislative committee more time to question two recent provincial appointees with Progressive Conservative ties, the NDP Opposition says, despite the pledges of transparency amid concerns about patronage.
NDP MPP Marit Stiles says the PC MPPs who sit with her on the legislature’s standing committee on government agencies blocked a request last week to extend a 30-day deadline in order to allow two recent PC appointees to appear for questioning.
Scrutiny over government appointments has intensified after Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, resigned amid revelations that posts were given to candidates with links to Mr. French or his family. The Premier’s Office rescinded the awarding of two six-figure jobs – including one to a 26-year-old friend of Mr. French’s sons – and pledged to review all pending appointments.
“Here we are at the peak of a massive controversy that hit this government like a storm,” Ms. Stiles said on Tuesday. “It is really quite shocking that in a matter of days after that hit, the members of this committee on the government side would choose not to have these appointments reviewed.”
Kayla Iafelice, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, said it was important that jobs were not left vacant as a result of Opposition MPPs “disregarding” the rules and procedures of the committee, including its prescribed time limits.
“As the Premier has clearly stated, if he finds that people have been appointed for the wrong reason and are not performing to the highest standards, these individuals will be removed from their positions,” Ms. Iafelice said in an e-mailed statement.
Extending the deadline to question appointees requires unanimous consent from the PC-dominated committee, but is something that has been done often in the past. However, Ms. Stiles said PC MPPs have also denied similar requests, even though it is difficult to schedule appearances for a committee that meets only for an hour a week when the legislature is in session.
Now, she says, MPPs won’t be able to question Dominic Morrissey, a PC riding association president in Pickering-Uxbridge, about his appointment to the board of Agricorp, which provides crop insurance and other services to Ontario farmers. Mr. Morrissey ran unsuccessfully in a nearby PC nomination race before the previous election and recently played host to a fundraiser for his local MPP, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy.
The committee will also lose its chance to question Brantford, Ont., businessman Rick Sterne about his volunteer appointment to the Trillium Foundation’s grant review team for the Grand River area. The NDP says Mr. Sterne is a “long-time PC activist” and former candidate. He ran unsuccessfully under the PC banner for a federal seat back in 1984. Under the legislature’s rules, both appointments will now be approved.
Mr. Sterne could not be reached. In an interview, Mr. Morrissey said he was well-suited to the position, which comes with a small per diem for meetings, on Agricorp’s board, as he worked with farmers on agricultural issues for a decade while working for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Mr. Morrissey said he was unaware his pending appearance before the standing committee was cancelled and that he welcomed the opportunity to face questions.
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