Premier Doug Ford says he addressed the patronage scandal created by his former chief of staff Dean French “immediately.”
Taking media questions in public for the first time since the controversy broke late last month, Ford — in Alberta Monday for the Calgary Stampede before heading to a meeting of premiers in Saskatoon — said “you know something, I think I addressed that pretty quickly. As a matter of fact, I addressed that immediately when we were in Toronto.”
However, he added, “we aren’t here to talk about Dean French. We’re here to talk about internal trade. This is the first opportunity this country has ever seen in recent memory that from coast to coast, from the east to the west, we have like-minded premiers” which is “incredible for the entire nation.”
Ford also accused the media of wanting “to get into the weeds” when the public wants to know about jobs and the economy.
“Do you really think when I walk down the street in Alberta, people worry about Dean French?” Ford added.
Opposition critics immediately slammed Ford. NDP MP Taras Natyshak (Essex) said the premier was “hiding out instead of taking responsibility for the patronage appointment scandal that has rocked his government,” adding he “finally popped his head up only to pass the buck in Cowtown.”
Natyshak said “make no mistake about it, Doug Ford is the conductor of his own gravy train. He hands out tickets to his cronies and he ditches them when he gets caught. Ontarians expect better conduct from the premier of this province.”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford’s evasiveness when asked about French “demonstrates a lack of respect for the people of Ontario.”
French left as chief of staff on June 28, shortly after Ford cancelled two high-paying patronage appointments French arranged for his son’s friend and his wife’s cousin.
A number of other examples of cronyism have come to light since, and just last week the government dismissed Peter Fenwick, a senior bureaucrat in the cabinet office as the province’s first strategic transformation adviser, after it was revealed he was a long-time insurance customer of French’s.
Government sources have told the Star that Ford “hit the roof” on the multiple revelations of French’s friends and family receiving plum positions. He has since said all upcoming appointments will be reviewed.
On Monday in Calgary, Ford was pressed to disclose whether French left voluntarily or was fired.
“Let’s be clear — Dean French is no longer there … we are moving forward,” Ford said, noting he has a new chief of staff, Jamie Wallace, who is well-liked among cabinet and Progressive Conservative MPPs.
The Calgary gathering of five premiers — Ford, Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick and Bob McLeod of Northwest Territories — comes ahead of this week’s meeting of all premiers and territorial leaders at the Council of the Federation.
Kenney characterized the pre-meeting — which included a visit to the Calgary Stampede — as a “brief and fairly informal get-together” to talk about jobs and the economy.
Moe, the host of this year’s federation meeting in Saskatoon, said the five are a “table of mutual interest” and not an ideological group, despite their similar political leanings.
At the Saskatoon meeting, the premiers are expected to discuss breaking down interprovincial trade barriers, as well as economic growth, health care, mental health/addictions and immigration.
“To create more jobs in Canada, we need to work together to remove barriers to internal trade in our country, strengthen trade with our trading partners, and diversify our export markets,” Moe said in a statement.
Kenney also emphasized the desire to strengthen free trade within Canada. “We all share the frustration that there are more barriers to trade within Canada than there are within the 28 countries of European Union.”
The Alberta premier said he hopes “for very strong language coming out of the (federation meeting) underscoring our support for economic corridors — not just for oil and gas but for hydro electricity, for rail, for roadways and other ways we can share our prosperity from coast to coast.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy