Do you matter?

Some people never learn. 

That was a pretty common reaction last week as reports surfaced that, of four people named to newly-created $165,000-a-year foreign postings by the Ontario government, two had personal links to Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff Dean French. At least one of those appeared drastically under-qualified for the position of “agent-general” to New York, charged with promoting ties between the province and business interests in that city.

To his credit, Ford revoked both appointments the following day, as soon as, according to his office, he learned “certain biographically information” about the appointees. French resigned from his position that afternoon.

Even then though, Ford’s government wouldn’t be honest about the reason for French’s departure. A statement released last Friday evening claimed, “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.”

If ever a statement called for the insertion of the over-used acronym “LOL” this would, in fact, be it.

What is truly astounding is the appointment debacle contains all the elements of the affair previously considered by many the biggest embarrassment of Ford’s tenure. That would be the manipulation of qualifying criteria that allowed Ford to appoint his long-time friend Ron Taverner to the position of OPP commissioner. Taverner eventually let Ford off the hook by withdrawing. However, Ontario’s integrity commissioner David Wake, while concluding Ford himself did not breach conflict of interest rules, noted French’s fingerprints all over the operation and indicated “serious doubts as to the fairness of the process to the other candidates.”

Despite the quick response once the details became public, this latest debacle raises questions about the premier’s attitude toward “insider” patronage. It should be remembered at this juncture that during the election campaign Ford pledged to conduct an audit and see to it that any “political insiders” caught in illegalities would be “going to jail.” 

Hmmm? Audit’s done. Charges pending?

In normal times, one might expect the premier to be a bit humbled by this latest predicament and inclined to tone down the rhetoric for fear of further faux pas.

However there he was on the weekend at “Ford Fest,” a former Ford family event co-opted by the Conservative party to promote an illusion of a popular premier. While Ford wasn’t booed at his own party by a crowd feasting on complimentary burgers, as he was at several other recent public appearances, his remarks at the event displayed no hint of contrition.

“We know that when they come at us, you are with us. And that’s all that matters, not the downtown insiders, not the media who criticize us at every single step,” Ford trumpeted (pun not only intended, but italicized) to the decidedly partisan crowd of about 15,000 who pre-registered to attend the free gathering. Then he said, “You are the only ones that matter to us. You are the only ones that we answer to.”

Now if those remarks had been made to a crowd of random Ontarians at, say, the annual Queen’s Park Canada Day celebration (conveniently cancelled this year – no point in risking more boo birds), they might have seemed entirely appropriate. However, given the partisan setting, you could be forgiven for concluding they call into question the premier’s commitment to governing on behalf of all citizens.

Ontario: “A Place to Grow”? Or  “For Those That Matter”?