Premier Doug Ford has severed ties with Dean French, who stepped down as his chief of staff after a cronyism scandal.
“No, no, I haven’t talked to him in quite some time,” Ford told reporters Tuesday during a campaign-style visit to Lucan, near London, where he announced a $315-million rural broadband internet strategy.
“I just want to wish Dean all the best and we’re moving forward as a government,” he said.
In his first news conference in Ontario since the patronage controversy erupted a month ago, Ford bristled when asked about the “French connection” imbroglio.
“When I’m out there, I don’t hear what the media’s asking me. I know the media has their agenda and so on and so forth. I’m not hearing that,” the premier said.
Conservative insiders, speaking to the Star confidentially in order to discuss private conversations, said Ford has assured aides and cabinet ministers that no longer has any contact with French, an Etobicoke insurance broker and long-time friend.
“He’s saying he feels a sense of betrayal at what happened,” said one senior official.
But when a reporter asked Ford if he felt “betrayed” by the cronyism affair, his answer was brusque.
“It’s become an old story. I don’t hear about that on the road. We’re moving forward,” he said.
French has not been available for comment since he left the premier’s office on June 21. He hung up on a Star reporter on Friday and has not responded to email messages.
Asked about a report in the Globe and Mail about the influence some lobbyists have on the Progressive Conservative administration, Ford was dismissive.
“Let’s be very clear: no one influences my government, no one influences my cabinet, and — I’ve said this over and over — no one can influence Doug Ford or our cabinet,” he said.
“I’ll take political advice, but no one interferes in any decision that we make as cabinet.”
Allegations of influence-peddling have dogged the premier since the Star first revealed on Feb. 21 that lobbyists had been enlisted by the Tories to sell tickets to Ford’s $1,250-a-plate fundraising dinner at the Toronto Congress Centre.
French, who was a key player in helping the premier win the 2018 Tory leadership, quit hours after Ford revoked six-figure patronage appointments to a cousin of French’s wife and a 26-year-old lacrosse pal of French’s son.
Along with leaving the government, French is not part of the 2022 PC re-election campaign.
In the wake of the patronage affair, seven Tory appointees have left their posts, including French.
Ford told the Star’s Kristin Rushowy earlier this month that the episode has been personally “difficult” because French was a friend.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie