Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the heads of two lobbying firms who give him political advice have no influence over his government.
Mr. Ford was responding to a Globe and Mail investigation that found he relies on lobbying executives Chris Froggatt and Kory Teneycke for advice, giving them access to his inner circle and influence through strategic direction, crisis management and input on the recent cabinet shuffle.
"Let’s be very clear: No one influences my government. No one influences my cabinet,” the Premier told reporters on Tuesday. “And I’ve said this over and over, no one can influence Doug Ford or our cabinet.”
Asked if he believes the public accepts his relationship with Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke, Mr. Ford said: “People can give political advice, they’ve been doing it for centuries. I’ll take political advice but no one interferes in any decision that we make as cabinet.”
The NDP called on Mr. Ford to clear the air about the backroom advisers who have access to his office, saying his insistence that no one influences him rings hollow.
“Those are shallow words from a Premier that has yet to prove that he’s open to operating within the boundaries of transparency and accountability,” said NDP MPP Taras Natyshak.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke, who started government-relations firms weeks after playing senior roles on the Progressive Conservative Party’s election campaign, have become powerful advisers to the Premier at the same time as their employees lobby his administration. Their companies 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 say they give the Premier political advice relating to the 2022 election. They say they operate within the rules and never discuss client matters.
Despite campaigning against what Mr. Ford criticized as the previous Liberal government’s cozy relationships with insiders and political elites, the Premier is now himself relying on backroom advisers who have no official roles, argued John Milloy, director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College, which is affiliated with Wilfrid Laurier University.
“They’re outsiders who in turn have dealings with the government as lobbyists and government relations people. I think that’s far removed from what the people of Ontario voted for,” said Prof. Milloy, a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister.
The Globe reported that Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke helped the government respond to the fallout over planned funding cuts to public-health units, child care and paramedic services. After growing public opposition and sagging poll numbers, Mr. Ford in May cancelled the cuts to municipalities for this year.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke’s roles included making suggestions on which cabinet ministers changed portfolios in last month’s sweeping cabinet shuffle.
In addition, the Premier’s Office dispatched Mr. Froggatt to help manage multiple crises, including negotiating with dissatisfied caucus members.
Critics say Ontario should strengthen its lobbying and ethics environment to prevent a blurring of lines between lobbying, political campaigning and advising on government operations.
Mr. Froggatt has not registered as a lobbyist in the province of Ontario, but is registered in the federal and Toronto systems. He said he sought advice from Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake and has refrained from lobbying for one year since the end of the transition period.
Mr. Teneycke recently registered on behalf of five clients in Ontario’s lobbyist registry. He said he has also obtained advice from Mr. Wake and does not lobby the Premier, his office or the cabinet office.
Under Ontario law, registered lobbyists are prohibited from placing public office holders, including MPPs, in a conflict of interest, whether real or potential. The rules also forbid MPPs from taking part in making decisions in which there is an opportunity to further their own private interest or to improperly further the private interest of another person.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said he plans to file complaints with the Integrity Commissioner about Mr. Froggatt, Mr. Teneycke and the lobbyists at their firms.
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