Premier Doug Ford is losing his most experienced political aide.
As first disclosed by the Star, Jenni Byrne, the premier’s principal secretary and a key architect of the Progressive Conservatives’ majority election victory last June, is leaving his office for a new post at the Ontario Energy Board.
Viewed by many as the most powerful woman at Queen’s Park, Byrne was a mastermind behind former prime minister Stephen Harper’s 2011 triumph.
She is among the few top Ford advisers with any experience at the highest levels of government.
“Jenni has been an invaluable resource not only to me and the staff in the premier’s office, but indeed to all members of the government . . . ,” Ford said in a statement announcing her two-year appointment to the OEB that pays $197,000 annually.
“I know Jenni would work with her future colleagues on the board, and the professionals at the OEB, to help bring utility rates under control and make life more affordable for Ontario families and businesses,” the premier said.
“In her capacity in senior positions with the federal government and here in my office, Jenni has consistently worked in service to the public. She understands the challenges facing the province in the natural gas and electricity sectors,” he said.
Sources said Byrne and other federal Conservative veterans had sparred with Ford’s mercurial chief of staff, Dean French, on matters of both style and substance.
French, a long-time confidant of the premier, has frustrated cabinet ministers, MPPs and Tory political staffers with his hard-charging manner.
But he is personally and professionally close to the premier. The two men, sporting their tuxedos, were even briefly stuck in the tiny elevator at the posh Albany Club on Thursday night during the Sir John A. Macdonald dinner.
Byrne, who is so well-regarded by Ford that he spent several days trying to dissuade her from leaving, is also popular with PC political staff.
“She works really hard and there’s no job that’s beneath her, which is good for younger staffers to see. She’s always willing to canvass and make calls (on campaigns),” said one top Conservative, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal matters.
Proud of her roots in Fenelon Falls, in the Kawartha Lakes, Byrne’s expertise on the voting patterns in Ontario ridings was instrumental to Ford’s victory over former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals on June 7.
It is widely expected she will play a major role in Ford’s 2022 re-election campaign.