Ontario Premier Doug Ford is starting to make changes to his inner circle, with a former aide to his late brother becoming principal secretary as more staff announce they are leaving for the private sector.
The Globe and Mail has learned that Amin Massoudi, a former communications director to late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, has been named as a senior aide to the Premier as he enters his second year in government.
“We’re excited to announce Amin Massoudi has assumed the role of principal secretary to the Premier. His leadership in the Premier’s Office has played a critical role in advancing our government’s goal of improving quality of government services and making life more affordable for individuals and families in Ontario," the Premier’s Office said in a statement to The Globe.
Mr. Ford has not yet hired a permanent chief of staff after Dean French resigned amid a patronage scandal in June. But interim chief of staff Jamie Wallace, a former Toronto Sun newspaper executive who joined the Premier’s Office in January, is considered the top contender for the post.
Sources say at least one of Mr. Ford’s top campaign officials, lobbyist Melissa Lantsman, turned down a deputy chief of staff job, while three midlevel staffers in the Premier’s office recently announced their departures from government. (Ms. Lantsman did not respond to a request for comment.)
While it is not uncommon for staff to move on after the first year in government, multiple party sources told The Globe that the Premier’s Office is struggling to recruit experienced political staffers to work at Queen’s Park.
Conservative insiders cite numerous reasons, including high salaries in the private sector coupled with a higher cost of living in Toronto, a burgeoning federal election campaign and reservations about joining Mr. Ford’s office after a series of controversies.
“It’s not unusual for there to be some turnover in staff after the first year in government,” Ivana Yelich, Mr. Ford’s press secretary, said in an e-mail.
Still, government sources say morale has improved significantly since Mr. French’s abrupt departure on June 21, after revelations about his personal ties to public appointees.
Mr. Wallace is said to be well respected among staff. A senior government source said Mr. Ford has not been in a rush to fill the position as the Premier looks to rebuild. The Ontario Legislature is not set to resume until the end of October.
Mr. Massoudi, who served as a deputy chief of staff at Queen’s Park, is a former staffer at Toronto’s city hall who worked for both the Premier and Rob Ford. The principal-secretary post has gone unfilled since the departure of former Harper government operative Jenni Byrne last January.
A source close to the government said Mitchell Davidson, former executive director of policy, was also in talks to fill the principal secretary role before his departure this summer, but was unable to come to terms with the Premier’s Office. Mr. Davidson recently announced his new role as head of public affairs firm StrategyCorp’s Institute of Public Policy and Economy, which launches this fall.
Recently announced departures from Mr. Ford’s office include marketing director Lauren McDonald and policy and budget director Ben Dachis, while director of issues management Andrew Koolsbergen recently took a role as a vice-president at the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships. Two new staff have since been hired to fill the roles, Ms. Yelich said.
“The Premier thanks them for their meaningful and incredible contributions over the past year and he’s thrilled to see them get promotions that will significantly advance their careers in the private sector," Ms. Yelich said.
In May, a group of key staffers announced they would be leaving Mr. Ford's inner circle as his government approached the end of its first year in office.
Mr. Ford lost his top communications and policy directors to the private sector, while two communications staffers moved to federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office in Ottawa.
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