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Doug Ford severs ties with Dean French after cronyism scandal
July 24, 2019
Robert Benzie

The “French connection” cronyism scandal swirling around Premier Doug Ford’s government has taken its toll on a couple of one-time cronies.

Ford has severed ties with pal Dean French, who resigned as his chief of staff after the controversy erupted last month.

“No, no, I haven’t talked to him in quite some time,” the premier 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 curtly.

A Progressive Conservative insider, speaking to the Star confidentially in order to discuss private conversations, said Ford has assured aides and cabinet ministers he no longer has any contact with French, an Etobicoke insurance broker.

“He’s saying he feels a sense of betrayal at what happened,” said one senior official.

When a journalist asked Ford if he felt personally “betrayed,” he indicated he wanted to change the subject.

“It’s becoming an old story,” he said. “I just don’t hear about that. I’m on the road. I hear about everything but that.”

Last fall, Ford said he backed French “1,000 per cent” because he “works hard, he’s honest, he has integrity.”

But in his first news conference in Ontario since the patronage imbroglio, Ford bristled when asked about his former chief of staff.

“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.

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 Globe and Mail story on the role of lobbyists in 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.”

On Friday, Ford emailed party activists to tout his new 17-member election-readiness committee, which includes a dozen lobbyists.

“The council will advise me on a plan leading up to the next election as we prepare for 2022. I expect the council to work with the party executive to engage riding presidents from across the province,” he wrote in the internal missive.

French, who was on a campaign committee Ford unveiled in January and was instrumental in the 2018 victory, is no longer involved in the re-election effort.

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.

As a result of the Star story, Ford banned reporters from covering his speech in person at the fundraiser, which brought in a Canadian-record $4 million to party coffers.

French, 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.

In the wake of the patronage affair, seven Tory appointees have left their posts, including the chief of staff.

Ford told the Star’s Kristin Rushowy earlier this month that the episode has been personally “difficult” because French was a friend.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said he is “very concerned the premier’s office is unofficially dominated by a gaggle of PC insiders quietly building their own lobbyist empires.”

“This is dangerous for democracy. It prevents unbiased decision-making in the public interest,” said Schreiner.

“I urge Premier Ford to tighten rules for lobbyist and increase transparency rather than conducting business under a cloak of darkness.”