Premier Doug Ford has revoked two patronage appointments the day after announcing them, following reports of the pair’s ties to his Chief of Staff Dean French.
A senior government source said the decision was made by the premier, but gave no reason.
The source said Tyler Albrecht — a friend of French’s son — will not be heading to New York as an “agent-general” and Taylor Shields won’t be taking up a similar post in England.
Shields is believed to be personally connected to French.
The embarrassing revelation comes after Ford awarded four such plum patronage posts on Thursday — and after a major cabinet shuffle to reset his struggling government.
“This was the premier’s decision,” said a senior government source, adding the government is now seeking replacements.
“For Doug Ford to try to create six-figure international appointments for family and friends is gross. For him to try to sweep it under the rug when he’s caught is disgusting,” said NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex).
Essex also called handing out tickets for friends and family after he fired 400 health care workers, “a new low.”
“This is Ron Taverner all over again,” Natyshak said.
Albrecht’s appointment raised the ire of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, with president Aaron Wudrick tweeting “I’ve seen some pretty insulting patronage in my time. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one that quite rivals this one.”
Agents-general earn up to $185,000 a year to boost Ontario business in the U.S. and Britain.
On Friday, a senior Conservative operative, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations, said “obviously, they wanted to bury” the patronage appointments under news of the sweeping cabinet shuffle.
“So that backfired,” said the Ford loyalist, expressing concern about the damage the debacle will cause to a premier who has styled himself as a champion for “the little guy” instead of the “downtown Toronto elites” he purports to disdain.
“This is not helpful. Doug can’t be happy,” said the insider.
Former Progressive Conservative party president Jag Badwal, a realtor, will represent the province in Dallas, Texas.
Earl Provost, a former Ontario Liberal party executive director and chief of staff to the late Rob Ford when he was Toronto mayor, is being dispatched to Chicago.
Both Badwal and Provost have worked with Doug Ford on political matters and are seen to have the premier’s ear.
Albrecht, who recently graduated from university and works in finance, was to be the province’s representative in New York while Shields, an assistant vice-president at Chubb Insurance, was set to go to London, England.
The three-year appointments pay $164,910 (Canadian) in the U.S., and $185,000 in the U.K.
“Taking Ontario’s open for business message around the world will help create the good jobs people need right here at home,” Ford said Thursday.
“Our government will work closely with these experts to make sure they’re delivering what we need and creating opportunities for our businesses to thrive.”
The move comes after the United States Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business organization, criticized the Ford government earlier this month for threatening to rip up Ontario’s 10-year deal with the Beer Store.
Up to four more agents-general could be hired.
On Newstalk 1010’s Moore in the Morning, former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne said it’s clear “there wasn’t adequate due diligence done.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie