Premier Doug Ford has revamped his re-election campaign team, enlisting respected Progressive Conservative veterans and injecting new blood in the wake of the “French connection” cronyism scandal.
“I am writing today to inform you about the newly formed leader’s advisory council on election readiness,” Ford wrote in an email to scores of Tory supporters Friday.
“The council will replace the former election readiness committee,” he said, referring to the smaller group unveiled Jan. 22 that included Dean French, his then chief of staff.
French submitted his resignation on June 21 amid the patronage controversy that has cost seven appointees their jobs, including him. Among them were plum postings to family and friends.
Ford told the Star’s Kristin Rushowy earlier this month that the cronyism debacle has been personally “difficult” because French was a close friend and long-time adviser.
“I’ve addressed that, Dean is no longer there. He’s not involved in the province whatsoever, and we are moving forward,” the premier said July 11.
“But I’m going to do a complete review, putting appointments through the Treasury (Board) and continue vetting them a lot deeper,” he said.
On the political side, Ford’s new election team is “is made up of long time PC Party volunteers, representing all regions from across Ontario.”
“The council will advise me on a plan leading up to the next election, as we prepare for 2022. I expect the council to work with the party executive to engage riding presidents from across the province.”
Holdovers from the previous committee are: party president Brian Patterson; Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs, who was a vice-chairman of last year’s victorious effort; 2018 election campaign manager Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy; party executive director Mike Crase; and PC Ontario Fund chairman Tony Miele.
Aside from French, Ford’s trusted deputy chiefs of staff Simone Daniels and Amin Massoudi, and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark are no longer on the committee.
In their stead are a group that includes some blue-chip Tories: former foreign affairs minister John Baird; former federal minister Peter Van Loan; Jeff Bangs, who was principal secretary to former premier Ernie Eves; Jason Lietaer, a top official in federal and provincial Conservative governments; Gaggan Gill, a well-regarded party stalwart; Melanie Paradis, a veteran of federal and provincial campaigns; Melissa Lantsman, who ran Ford’s war room last year; Ginny Roth, a young strategist who has emerged as one of the party’s most effective spinners on TV; as well as Shakir Chambers, Kelly Mitchell, Chris Loreto and Andre Robichaud.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie