Opposition members at the Ontario Legislature are calling on Premier Doug Ford to explain the role his office played in the ouster of a Crown corporation executive and how much it will cost the public purse.
In Question Period on Tuesday, Opposition members asked Mr. Ford why his chief of staff intervened to get an executive at Ontario Power Generation fired. The Globe and Mail revealed this week that Dean French, the Premier’s chief of staff, asked OPG chair Bernard Lord to fire Alykhan Velshi on his first day on the job. Mr. Velshi previously served as chief of staff to former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown.
The revelation came as Mr. Ford faces growing questions about a spate of personnel decisions. On Tuesday, a former senior Tory staffer who was pushed out of his job last week hired a lawyer, who announced plans to take “all steps necessary” to defend his client’s reputation.
On Mr. Velshi’s firing from OPG, New Democrat MPP John Vanthof asked Mr. Ford during Question Period for details of the severance package, which he said some suggested could be as high as $500,000. “Can the Premier tell us how much of the public’s money Mr. Velshi will be taking home for his 24 hours on the job?” Mr. Vanthof asked.
Mr. Ford responded, “The OPG is responsible for doing their own hiring,” without elaborating.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser called on Mr. Ford, Mr. French and Energy Minister Greg Rickford to answer questions about the situation. “It’s inappropriate for a chief of staff to the Premier to be calling an outside organization and telling them what to do,” Mr. Fraser told reporters.
Even though Mr. Velshi was fired the same day he began his new job in September, he is remaining in his role as vice-president of corporate affairs and community relations until his termination formally takes effect. That date is not known, along with how much severance he will receive.
Jeff Lyash, the chief executive officer of OPG who was at Queen’s Park on Tuesday to testify at a legislative committee, told reporters that Mr. Velshi is still working at the electrical utility. “Beyond that,” he said, " I just don’t talk about personnel matters."
Mr. Lyash said he had no knowledge about whether Mr. Lord communicated with the Premier’s chief of staff but added, “I’ve never spoken to Mr. French.”
Mr. Lord did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Velshi declined to comment.
Mr. Velshi’s predecessor at OPG was paid a salary of $223,140 in 2017, according to the annual disclosure of public employees paid more than $100,000.
There are also questions surrounding the departure of John Sinclair, who was executive director of the PC caucus bureau. Mr. Sinclair left last Thursday night without an official explanation from the Premier’s Office.
Mr. Sinclair has hired Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to represent him. In a statement to The Globe on Tuesday, Scott Hutchison, a lawyer at the firm, said Mr. Sinclair plans to take “all steps necessary to defend his reputation against any defamatory and false statements.”
The Toronto Star has reported that, according to sources, Mr. Sinclair was dismissed over his alleged failure to alert the Premier about impropriety by another former aide to Mr. Ford, an allegation Mr. Sinclair’s lawyer denies. The Premier’s Office has been embroiled in turmoil over allegations of inappropriate sexual text messages involving Andrew Kimber, former executive director of issues management in the Premier’s Office, and sexual-misconduct allegations against former economic development minister Jim Wilson.
Mr. Sinclair has not spoken publicly since he was shown the door last week. In a news release on Tuesday, his lawyer, Mr. Hutchison, said the “insinuation” made in the media that Mr. Sinclair was “in some way deficient” in his handling of Mr. Kimber’s dismissal is “categorically false.”
“As with all sensitive staffing matters, John Sinclair acted with efficiency and professionalism,” the lawyer’s statement said. “Any suggestion to the contrary in the media is wrong, must not stand and will be revealed in time.”
Mr. Sinclair declined to comment when reached by The Globe and referred to his lawyer’s statement.
Mr. Kimber was dismissed earlier this month for allegedly sending sexually charged text messages to female Tory staffers. He has since apologized for the “unacceptable” conduct. Mr. Kimber’s ouster came the same day the Premier forced Mr. Wilson, his most experienced minister, to resign from cabinet and caucus. It later emerged that a male staffer had allegedly complained about Mr. Wilson’s conduct.