Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government is exposing itself to a “perpetual” conflict of interest through its close ties to lobbyists, warns a Progressive Conservative Party riding association.
The president of the Cambridge Progressive Conservative Riding Association says it is “alarming” that the party’s election-readiness committee is dominated by lobbyists, according to a copy of an e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“We have concerns about the ongoing positioning of lobbyists within the senior ranks of our party, their access to government, and the perpetual conflict of interest this creates,” says the e-mail addressed to Mr. Ford and copied to the heads of every PC Party riding association in Ontario.
The e-mail cites a Globe and Mail story published last month on how Mr. Ford relies on the heads of two lobbying firms for advice, giving them access to his inner circle and influence over Ontario politics.
Chris Froggatt and Kory Teneycke held senior roles during last year’s provincial election campaign and set up lobbying firms shortly after Mr. Ford became Premier. The pair have no official positions in Mr. Ford’s government, but they have become powerful backroom advisers to the Premier at the same time as their employees lobby his administration, The Globe reported.
Their firms have each signed up more than two dozen clients, many of which have a financial interest in government initiatives, including liberalizing beer and wine sales, rolling out cannabis retail policies and tendering on public-sector construction contracts.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke were the only individuals with ties to lobbying firms named as part of the PC Party’s election-readiness committee earlier this year. However, after The Globe made inquiries last month about the Premier’s relationship with the two men, the party revamped the committee with additional members, including other lobbyists.
Mr. Ford has responded to The Globe investigation by saying that Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke have no influence over his government.
“Let’s be very clear,” he told reporters last month. “No one influences my government. No one influences my cabinet.”
The Premier’s Office has said it is appropriate for Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke to provide political advice in their capacity as advisers, adding that Mr. Ford is not aware of and would not tolerate any breaches of the lobbying rules.
For their part, Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke have said they give the Premier political advice relating to the next election and never discuss client matters.
An Ontario PC Party spokesman said on Monday that the election-readiness committee is solely focused on providing advice for the next provincial election.
“The committee is comprised of long-time party volunteers from across the province,” Marcus Mattinson said in an e-mail response to The Globe. “They represent among the best political minds in Ontario.”
Mr. Mattinson declined to say whether other PC Party riding associations have expressed similar concerns about the government’s close ties to lobbyists.
Lillo Ognibene, president of the Cambridge riding association, did not respond to requests for comment. He says in his e-mail that the association’s board of directors passed a unanimous resolution, calling on him to share their concerns with Mr. Ford.
The e-mail also says the election-readiness committee is predominantly comprised of individuals who live in the Greater Toronto Area and, as a result, does not represent all regions of Ontario.
As well, the e-mail alleges that it is “inappropriate” to include PC Party president Brian Patterson and vice-president Chris Loreto on the committee, because they are each serving two-year terms on the executive as a result of an “illegitimate” election.
Mr. Patterson, a party stalwart who was endorsed by Mr. Ford and several caucus members, beat out grassroots activist Jim Karahalios in a bitter battle last November. He declined to comment on the letter. Mr. Patterson was a chief of staff in the governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, and a top adviser to former PC leaders John Tory and Tim Hudak. Mr. Karahalios is married to Belinda Karahalios, the PC MPP for the riding of Cambridge.
Mr. Ford’s appointment of a dozen lobbyists on his 17-member election-readiness committee represents a “continued undermining of the democratic integrity” of the PC Party, Mr. Ognibene says in his e-mail. “It leaves grassroots party members, and their representative boards, with a shrinking voice, and without any legitimate means to enable accountable representation.”
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