Ontario government seeks new envoys in London and New York after cronyism scandal

Ontario government seeks new envoys in London and New York after cronyism scandal

Ontario is looking for new agents general in London and New York — but no cronies need apply.

That’s the message from Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, who is looking to fill positions vacated in the wake of the Progressive Conservatives’ “French connections” cronyism scandal.

“We’re taking a thoughtful and thorough approach to that because these are important positions,” Fedeli told the Star in an interview Tuesday.

The minister emphasized the search is focused on “qualified people” who can help sell Ontario to the world.

In June, Premier Doug Ford parted ways with his chief of staff, Dean French, after it emerged French’s wife’s cousin received the $185,000-a-year post in London and a 26-year-old lacrosse pal of his son was headed to New York for $164,910 annually.

Ford personally revoked those two patronage appointments hours before his chief tendered his resignation.

The posts have remained vacant ever since.

In all, seven “French connections” appointees were forced out or voluntarily stepped down after the controversy.

Asked if it is difficult to attract strong candidates because of the negative publicity in June, Fedeli said: “I know that there is a lot of interest in these positions. They’re important positions. The importance to the people of Ontario is critical.”

The minister said he has visited provincial offices in the U.K., France, India, Japan, and South Korea and has seen firsthand the work done by Ontario emissaries.

“These are the people who develop our leads and who work with companies overseas,” he said.

Two other $164,910-a-year appointments — to former PC Party president Jag Badwal, Ontario’s agent-general in Dallas, and Earl Provost, a former Ontario Liberal party executive director and chief of staff to the late mayor Rob Ford, in Chicago — have proceeded.

“There’s a mandatory but thorough vetting process and security process because both Earl and Jag are co-located in federal government consul general offices,” said Fedeli.

“That’s now completed so they’ve both been recently on-boarded and … been having meetings in both the U.S. and Canada with trade prospects. They’re on the job; they’re not yet in their offices,” he said.

In the legislature, NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) expressed concern that Badwal has been more involved in drumming up political support for Conservatives than business for Ontario.

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“On Nov. 26 he was here in Toronto joining the Ford cabinet at an event celebrating PC women in politics and (in) October (federal) Conservative party activists were proudly taking photos with the Dallas agent-general as he campaigned with them in Brampton,” he said.

Natyshak wondered why Badwal “seems to spend so much time campaigning for the Conservatives here in the GTA.”

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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