Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has gone on the offensive over the hiring of Tory MPP Kinga Surma’s father, saying he is a much-needed antidote to all the “ivory tower” individuals who worked for the previous Liberal regime.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters on Thursday that Ms. Surma’s father, who emigrated from Poland, overcame his humble beginnings as a newcomer to Canada. At the same time, Mr. Lecce criticized the “unacceptable” appointments connected to Dean French, Mr. Ford’s former chief of staff, amid a growing web of cronyism in government posts. Another appointment with ties to Mr. French has also come to light – a member of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Ms. Surma’s father got a job in the minister of economic development’s office weeks after the 2018 provincial election, according to sources. Miroslaw Surma began working as a policy adviser last July, a month after the Progressive Conservatives came to power, said government sources who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
One source, who was aware of the request to find a position for Ms. Surma’s father, said staff inside the Premier’s Office were upset that Mr. French had asked for the hire. Mr. French, who resigned last Friday in the midst of the patronage scandal, did not have a specific job in mind for Ms. Surma’s father, the source said. But Mr. French said hiring him was important to the Premier, the source said.
Ms. Surma did not respond to requests for comment. She was promoted to associate transportation minister as part of last week’s cabinet shuffle.
Mr. Lecce told reporters that Mr. Surma “has gone through the everyday aspirations as a middle-class person who didn’t have a lot of money upon his entrance to this country, but made it and worked hard. That is actually a voice that should be informing more cabinet ministers.” The former Liberal government, he said, took advice from “too many ivory tower people.”
The Premier’s Office did not answer questions about how Mr. Surma was hired for the job. Mr. French also did not respond to requests for comment. IPolitics first reported on the appointment.
Mr. Surma, who went to veterinary college, has experience managing a team in the telecom industry and worked in logistics at an auto-parts company, as well as a delivery company, according to a government source. The source was granted anonymity in order to discuss internal staffing. Mr. Surma also worked as a security guard for one year.
Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith, the former economic development minister, also praised Mr. Surma. “He’s been an absolute pleasure to work with. He does great work every day,” Mr. Smith told The Globe and Mail.
The ministers’ comments were at odds with those made by another cabinet minister hours earlier on Thursday. “We need to be better,” Lisa Thompson, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, told reporters when asked about Mr. Surma’s hiring.
Other ministers attending a cabinet meeting on Thursday expressed support for the government’s review of appointments, but offered little comment on the several people with ties to Mr. French who have been given posts.
David Colfer, another individual with ties to Mr. French, was appointed a member of the LCBO on Feb. 28 for a three-year term. Mr. Colfer has worked nearly three decades in the retail distribution industry, including as general manager of cookware company Lagostina (Canada). He was named to the board of the LCBO after he disclosed his connections to Mr. French during his appearance at a legislative committee that vetted his appointment. Mr. Colfer did not respond to requests for comment.
During committee hearing, New Democratic Party MPP Taras Natyshak said the committee on government agencies had found a “disturbing pattern” of appointments that are partisan in nature before asking Mr. Colfer if he had any relationship with Mr. Ford or Mr. French.
Mr. Colfer responded that he knew Mr. French “from school.” Asked by Mr. Natyshak to elaborate, he said he went to Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke with Mr. French, who graduated in 1991, a year after Mr. Colfer.
Asked by Mr. Natyshak whether the two have any business relationship, Mr. Colfer said only that he has purchased insurance from Mr. French in the past. He elaborated on those business dealings in a “recommendation” of Mr. French that has since been deleted from Mr. French’s LinkedIn profile.
Mr. Colfer said he used Mr. French for financial and insurance advice for many years at his workplace. He also used Mr. French to top up disability and life insurance for him and his wife.
During his testimony at the committee, Mr. Colfer said he had not talked to Mr. French about the opening on the LCBO board.
New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles wrote a letter to Mr. Ford on Thursday, calling on him to allow the committee to meet more often. The committee meets for an hour once a week when the legislature is in session and has had time to interview just 20 appointees this year. The “clock ran out” on another 33 individuals on the NDP’s list for vetting who received appointments, Ms. Stiles said in an interview.
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