Premier Doug Ford is investigating the French connections in the wake of a cronyism scandal that is embroiling his Progressive Conservative government.
Ford on Tuesday “called for a review of all pending appointments” after a relative of his former chief of staff, Dean French, resigned from the Public Accountants Council.
French, who stepped down after a separate nepotism imbroglio on Friday night, is the uncle of Katherine Pal, managing director of Pal Insurance.
Pal — the niece of Jane Pal French, the ex-chief of staff’s spouse — had been named as a provincial appointee to the council on Dec. 31.
“When the premier found out about this one, he hit the roof,” said a senior Ford official, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal conversations.
“He didn’t know about this personal connection so he’s called for a review of all pending appointments. He was really unhappy,” the government insider said.
Indeed, Ford sent a note to Tory staffers underscoring that French has been defenestrated.
“I need to be clear he no longer has a role in our government or the party,” the premier wrote.
“Dean’s advice and support has been appreciated, but he no longer has any influence in this government,” he continued.
French was a source of aggravation for the premier due to his headline-grabbing antics such as loudly berating Tory MPPs and staffers.
Pal, who did not return a message from the Star, was paid $700 per meeting — bankrolled by the accounting industry not taxpayers — and there are four meetings annually.
“The premier’s office has spoken with Katherine Pal and she has resigned from Ontario’s Public Accounts Council, effective immediately,” said Kayla Iafelice, the premier’s director of media relations.
That panel is headed by Gavin Tighe, who is the lawyer for both French and Ford. Tighe makes $166,000 as chair of the industry-funded body.
Tighe referred comment to the council’s CEO, Keith Bowman.
“With regret Ms. Pal has decided to resign from council effective immediately. Ms. Pal, was, however, extremely well qualified for membership on the council,” said Bowman.
“Her finance credentials are impeccable,” he said, emphasizing “none of the expenses associated with the council are funded in any way by taxpayer monies.”
The episode gave further ammunition to the New Democrats.
“Doug Ford has been making it rain first-class tickets on the gravy train for friends and family of his inner circle,” NDP MPP Taras Natyshak said before Pal stepped down.
“This reeks of nepotism, with paycheques, power and favours for Ford’s inner circle, while everyday Ontarians get nothing but cuts,” said Natyshak (Essex).
“How many family members, close personal friends, business partners and lacrosse-playing friends of the French family will Doug Ford hand over cushy jobs to, paid for by the people of Ontario?” he said.
“These appointments stink and Ontarians deserve so much better.”
French resigned Friday night just hours after the premier revoked two patronage appointments he had pushed through.
The ex-chief had installed his wife’s cousin, Taylor Shields, as the $185,000-a-year Ontario agent general to London, England and his son’s 26-year-old lacrosse buddy, Tyler Albrecht, as the province’s $164,910-a-year trade representative in New York.
After Ford rescinded the appointments, two cabinet ministers personally urged him on Friday morning to fire French for embarrassing the government.
The Tories felt blindsided because they assumed they would have to defend the other two patronage appointees named Thursday afternoon as Queen’s Park was preoccupied with a massive cabinet shuffle.
Former PC party president Jag Badwal, a realtor, is being dispatched to Dallas, Texas, and Earl Provost, a former Ontario Liberal party executive director and chief of staff to the late Rob Ford when he was Toronto mayor, is head to Chicago.
“We thought Jag and Earl would be the problem — not Dean’s friends and family,” said one minister, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss cabinet deliberations.
The patronage debacle is especially damaging to Ford, who on Saturday railed against “the downtown insiders … (and) media who criticize us at every single step.”
He charged that his opponents are “a select few (that) can’t stand that we are taking their hands out of the cookie jar.”
But the opposition New Democrats say it now appears Ford is driving the “gravy train.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie