Doug Ford’s chief of staff resigned on Friday after a cronyism scandal that forced the Ontario Premier to abruptly revoke the appointments of two people with close ties to the top adviser and led to a stream of criticism, including concerns raised privately by cabinet ministers.
Dean French, viewed as the most powerful unelected official in Mr. Ford’s orbit, is leaving office after one year in government, the Premier’s office said in a statement on Friday evening.
“I want [to] personally thank Dean for his hard work, his leadership and his friendship. He is leaving our government in a very strong position from where we can build upon our successes and continue delivering on our priorities for the people of Ontario,” Mr. Ford said in the statement.
Jamie Wallace, the premier’s deputy chief of staff, will take over the post until a replacement is named.
Mr. French’s resignation came hours after Mr. Ford abruptly cancelled the appointments of Tyler Albrecht and Taylor Shields as the new agents general to New York and London, positions that come with salaries of $165,000 to $185,000 plus expenses.
The appointments of Mr. Albrecht, a 26-year-old lacrosse player who is friends with Mr. French’s sons, and Ms. Shields, who is Mr. French’s wife’s second cousin, rankled cabinet ministers, MPPs and government insiders, sources said.
MPPs viewed the appointments as the “last straw” for Mr. French and communicated the message to Mr. Ford on Friday, a source close to the government said. The sources for this story were granted anonymity to speak freely about private discussions or because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
The Premier announced a cabinet shuffle on Thursday that demoted several senior ministers. Many Progressive Conservatives hoped it would turn the page on a difficult few months in which poll numbers for Mr. Ford and his government plunged after the release of its first budget.
But the appointments, announced on the same day as the cabinet shuffle, sparked a firestorm of criticism that derailed the government’s attempt at a fresh start and cast doubt on senior officials’ judgment.
One of the Tory sources told The Globe the appointments were confirmed at a cabinet meeting that included Mr. Ford on Thursday. Ministers were given limited information about the appointees, with few personal details or ages, and weren’t informed about any potential conflicts, the source said.
Others said Mr. French did not believe the appointments of Mr. Albrecht and Ms. Shields would be controversial, and the timing of the announcement was intended to bury the news that a former PC party president and a former chief of staff to mayor Rob Ford also received postings.
But condemnations came fast, including from cabinet ministers who pleaded with Mr. Ford to drop Mr. French, one of the sources said. Others said Mr. Ford should keep him on and stay the course.
Mr. Ford, who the sources say trusted and felt comfortable with Mr. French, felt he had been surprised too often by his chief of staff’s actions. Mr. Ford was also unaware of the $350,000 salary that accompanied the previous appointment of Washington trade adviser Ian Todd, the sources said.
With Mr. French’s departure, Mr. Ford loses a loyal adviser who knew how to “coach” Mr. Ford and was happy to play bad cop, despite being unfamiliar with the mechanics of the government and managing junior staffers.
Mr. French had been accused of overstepping his role, including for keeping a close eye on when MPP gave the Premier standing ovations, berating staff and limiting access to the Premier. He also was in the news last week for scolding an MPP at a recent caucus retreat after she complained to Mr. Ford about the government’s communications strategy.
Mr. French, an Etobicoke businessman not prominent in Conservative circles since working on former federal Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s national campaign nearly two decades ago, was Mr. Ford’s campaign chair during the 2018 election. The day after the PCs won power in June, Mr. Ford named him his chief of staff.
Earlier on Friday, the government’s appointments were condemned by conservative groups, including the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“I’ve seen some pretty insulting patronage in my time. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one that quite rivals this one,” said Aaron Wudrick, the CTF’s federal director, in a Twitter post.
According to a government news release, Mr. Albrecht has worked in the financial sector in Toronto and New York. But according to his LinkedIn profile, his only U.S. work experience was as a sales and trading intern in New Jersey for one summer during university.
On Friday morning, The Globe approached the Premier’s Office after sources close to the French family said Ms. Shields is a second cousin of Mr. French’s wife. The appointments were revoked within half an hour.
Ms. Shields is an assistant vice-president for marketing at Chubb Insurance, where she has worked for 12 years, according to her LinkedIn profile. She was to be sent to London, where she would have earned the highest salary.
Ms. Shields and Mr. Albrecht did not return messages on Friday. They are not expected to receive severance.
The Premier’s Office had defended the appointments of Mr. Albrecht and Ms. Shields on the day of the announcement, calling them “highly qualified across a broad range of sectors and skill sets.”
Mr. Albrecht and Ms. Shields were among four new trade advisers announced on Thursday. Their positions are expected to be filled.
The three-year appointments also include former Ontario PC Party president and real estate agent Jag Badwal, who will be based in Dallas. Earl Provost, the former chief of staff to Rob Ford, will take on the role in Chicago. He joined the Premier’s Office last month as a senior policy adviser on intergovernmental affairs.
The agents-general will serve as the province’s primary international representatives in their locations and will work closely with Mr. Todd. Ontario has not had agents-general since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when they were based in New York, France and Japan.
In a statement, the Premier’s office said Mr. French informed the Premier on Friday “that he will be returning to the private sector after a successful first year of government, as he had always planned.”
With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto
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