The Liberals are calling on Premier Doug Ford to request an investigation by Ontario’s ethics watchdog into public appointments made by the government following revelations several had personal or family connections to his former chief of staff.
Integrity commissioner J. David Wake should launch a probe into Dean French’s involvement in appointments since the Progressive Conservatives came to power a year ago, Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser told a news conference Thursday.
“He must make the commissioner’s findings public to clear the air and restore public confidence,” Fraser said. “They should have the right to know what happened.
“Mr. French was someone of tremendous influence in this government.”
French left his job as Ford’s right-hand man two weeks ago, just hours after the premier revoked two patronage appointments French had arranged: his wife’s cousin to a $185,000-a-year post as Ontario’s agent-general in London, England, and his son’s 26-year-old friend as a trade representative in New York for $164,910 annually.
Last week, a source told the Star, Ford “hit the roof” after French’s niece resigned from an appointment to the Ontario Public Accountants Council. He pledged an internal review of “all pending appointments” and sent a damage-control memo to his MPPs stating French “no longer has any influence in this government.”
Fraser said the appointments are “deeply concerning” and appear to be “part of a pattern,” but expressed frustrations with the legal powers granted to the integrity commissioner’s office under the Public Service of Ontario Act.
Wake acknowledged in a letter to Fraser that he has the power investigate public appointments but not to make any findings public.
“I have no legal authority to release that information publicly. The decision to do so would be the premier’s,” Wake wrote in response to a request from Fraser for a probe.
“I don’t believe that this serves the public interest. Ontarians need to have confidence that the people who are appointed to high office in this province are qualified and free of conflict,” Fraser said.
New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles said the premier didn’t pay close enough attention to appointments made by the government, and blamed Conservative MPPs on a legislative committee for blocking appearances of some appointees.
“We’ve seen repeatedly that Doug Ford doesn’t want to know who’s boarding his gravy train,” Stiles said.
“It’s now incumbent on us, I think, to dig a little deeper.”
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1