Doug Ford's chief of staff resigns following patronage controversy

Doug Ford's chief of staff, Dean French, has resigned, the office of the Ontario premier says.

PC caucus 'relieved' with departure of Dean French, says senior MPP

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, sits beside his chief of staff Dean French at the Ontario PC convention in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2018. French resigned Friday, the premier's office said. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's chief of staff, Dean French, has resigned in the wake of damning reports that the Progressive Conservative government's picks for two patronage appointments had ties to French. 

In a statement Friday evening, Ford's office said the premier accepted French's resignation in the early afternoon — the same day the government revoked the appointments of Tyler Albrecht and Taylor Shields as agents general to New York and London, respectively. 

According to a Globe and Mail report published Friday morning, the 26-year-old Albrecht knows French and his two sons through their participation in lacrosse. The Globe also reported that Shields, an assistant vice-president of marketing for Chubb Insurance, is a second cousin to French's wife.

Ford's press secretary announced Friday morning that the appointments were rescinded, but declined to explain why. 

    Friday evening's statement says, "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."

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

    'A fresh start was absolutely necessary'

    French will be replaced by deputy chief of staff Jamie Wallace, who will step into the position of interim chief of staff until a permanent replacement is announced.

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

    One senior MPP who spoke with CBC News described the mood among the PC caucus as "relieved" with French's departure. "A fresh start was absolutely necessary."

    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.

    Embroiled in controversies

    French has been embroiled in controversies since Ford appointed him a year ago. 

    Former PC MPP Randy Hillier alleged earlier this year that French engaged in an "underhanded and relentless campaign" to boot him from caucus.

    Last fall, French ordered Ontario Power Generation to fire a newly hired vice-president, according to reporting by the Globe and Mail

    The Toronto Star reported that French ordered political staff to tell police to carry out raids on cannabis dispensaries on the day of legalization last October. 

    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.

    Communications with OPP appointee

    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 acknowledgement 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."

    In a statement from the Official Opposition, New Democratic Party MPP Marit Stiles said, "The buck stops with Doug Ford.

    "As long as he's plowing ahead with his callous cuts for families, backroom deals for friends, and relentless bullying of anyone who disagrees with him, changing back room staff won't help the people of Ontario who are hurting under the Ford regime."

    Ford said French's legacy will be 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 Friday's statement.

    With files from Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press