Premier Doug Ford has dismissed Ontario’s representative in Washington at a time of unresolved trade talks in the U.S. capital, a move that is part of a broader purge of provincial officials appointed by the former Liberal government.
Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative cabinet fired Monique Smith from her role as the province’s trade representative at a meeting in late June. In an e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail that Ms. Smith sent to Canadian embassy officials in Washington, she informed them that she would be leaving her post the week of July 16.
The rookie Premier has moved quickly to remove former premier Kathleen Wynne’s appointees during his first weeks in office, sacking Ontario’s chief scientist and chief investment officer, as well as removing former Toronto-Dominion Bank chief executive Ed Clark from his role as the premier’s business adviser.
“The office will continue to serve in the Canadian Embassy in D.C. I am very proud of the Ontario team and what we have built over the last five years,” Ms. Smith wrote in her note to embassy officials. She declined to comment on her departure when reached by The Globe.
As the province’s trade representative, she had been involved in talks with U.S. officials during the continuing renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement and the introduction of a series of tariffs on Canadian goods by U.S. President Donald Trump. A threatened 25-per-cent tariff on Canadian-made automobiles could do significant damage to Ontario’s economy, economists at BMO Financial have warned.
Mr. Ford has pledged to work side by side with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government during NAFTA negotiations. Shortly after the recent provincial election, the Premier said he intended to visit all 50 states as part of his drive to persuade U.S. officials of the importance of continued trade with Ontario.
A spokesman for Mr. Ford would not say whether the Premier intends to replace Ms. Smith. More of the focus of representing Ontario in the United States could instead fall on Jim Wilson, the new Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.
“We thank Ms. Smith for her service. The Premier is working closely with Minister Wilson and the rest of his cabinet to protect Ontario jobs and promote the importance of trade with our partners south of the border,” Mr. Ford’s spokesman, Simon Jefferies, said in a statement.
Before serving for five years as Ontario’s representative in Washington, Ms. Smith was a long-time Liberal legislator and adviser. She held three cabinet posts under former premier Dalton McGuinty and then led Ms. Wynne’s transition team as her new administration entered the premier’s office.
Over the past two years, Ms. Smith spearheaded Ontario’s efforts to combat Buy American provisions in New York State and Texas. She was effective in that role and also helped co-ordinate the charm offensive by federal and provincial officials after Mr. Trump’s election, according to political strategist Charles Bird.
“She really punched above her weight a good amount of the time. That speaks not only to her effectiveness, but also the importance of her role,” said Mr. Bird, who works at consulting firm Earnscliffe, but previously advised governments in Ottawa and Queen’s Park.