Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff resigns

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to journalists to share his achievements in government, in Toronto, on Friday June 7, 2019, on the one year anniversary of him taking office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff resigned Friday night after a string of controversies in the government’s first year that culminated in the premier rescinding the lucrative appointments of two people with reported ties to Dean French.

The timing of French’s resignation isn’t directly related, the premier’s office suggested.

“Mr. French informed the premier that he will be returning to the private sector after a successful first year of government, as he had always planned,” spokeswoman Kayla Iafelice wrote in a statement.

Ford said French’s legacy will be that of leading a successful election campaign and a successful first year of government.

“I want to personally thank Dean for his hard work, his leadership and his friendship,” Ford said in a statement.

Earlier Friday, Ford was forced to address a controversy about the appointments of two people who reportedly had personal ties to French.

On Thursday, Ford announced four agents-general appointments, which come with salaries between $165,000 and $185,000.

Taylor Shields, an assistant vice-president of marketing for Chubb Insurance, was appointed to a post in London and Tyler Albrecht, a senior analyst at Optimize Capital Markets, was being sent to New York City.

The Globe and Mail reported that sources say Shields is related to French, and that Albrecht, 26, is friends with one of French’s sons. A 2014 tweet from French says one of his sons and Albrecht are former lacrosse teammates.

The appointments were rescinded just one day after a cabinet shuffle intended as a reset after a rocky first year in power that knocked the government off message.

Henry Jacek, a McMaster University political science professor, said the appointments controversy was the latest in a string of incidents involving French.

“There is this rule around Queen’s Park and elsewhere (that) when the media is talking about the staffer, it’s time for the staffer to go,” he said.

French has also clashed with some Progressive Conservative caucus members who have bristled at a reportedly aggressive management style that reduced at least one to tears.

Former caucus member Randy Hillier has alleged that French wielded an inappropriate amount of power and caused a culture of fear and intimidation by clamping down on dissent.

French is suing Hillier for defamation for a series of tweets that alleged criminality and misconduct in two leadership races. Hillier denies that he defamed French.

According to a report from the province’s integrity commissioner, French was also involved in a process that saw a long-time friend of Ford appointed as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner. The hiring of Ron Taverner sparked a large and sustained outcry and Taverner ultimately turned the job down.

Integrity commissioner J. David Wake raised concerns with communications between the province’s top civil servant and French.

“What I found most disconcerting in all the evidence were the text messages from the secretary to Mr. French as to Mr. Taverner’s progress throughout the process,” Wake wrote in a report.

“There seemed to be a tacit acknowledgment by the secretary that Mr. French was rooting for Mr. Taverner’s success. Anyone examining these messages would have serious doubts as to the fairness of the process to the other candidates.”

The Toronto Star reported last year that French allegedly sought to interfere in police work by ordering senior political aides to instruct police to raid dispensaries the day recreational cannabis became legal.

New Democrat Marit Stiles said Ford is still the one accountable to the public.

“Changing back room staff won’t help the people of Ontario who are hurting under the Ford regime,” she said in a statement.

Deputy chief of staff Jamie Wallace, who recently left Postmedia as vice-president of editorial to join Ford’s office, will be the interim chief of staff.