Doug Ford's ex-chief of staff leads back-channel talks between City of Ottawa, protesters
Dean French helped broker deal to have trucks move out of residential neighbourhoods
Dean French, the controversial former chief of staff to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, is leading the back-channel negotiations between the City of Ottawa and the protesters occupying its downtown.
Multiple sources have told CBC News that French is acting as Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson's go-between communicating with the leaders of the protest that has choked the city for 19 days.
The sources say French brokered a deal last weekend, under which the estimated 400 trucks in residential areas would move, to contain the protest zone to the streets immediately around Parliament Hill.
However, few trucks have actually moved, and one of the protest leaders, Tamara Lich, cast doubt on whether such a deal had actually been made.
Watson told CBC News on Tuesday that French approached him and said he had connections among the truckers involved in the protest and could help negotiate.
French also confirmed his role in the talks. He told CBC News he is involved as a private citizen and is trying to bring a peaceful resolution to the protest.
French resigned from the top political job in the premier's office in the summer of 2019. He oversaw Ford's tumultuous first year in power and was at the centre of a range of political controversies, including:
- The appointment of Ford's longtime friend Ron Taverner, a veteran Toronto Police superintendent, to head the Ontario Provincial Police. Taverner ultimately withdrew from the post.
- Ordering senior political aides to direct police to raid unlicensed cannabis stores on the first day of pot legalization, as reported by the Toronto Star.
- A series of patronage appointments to plum taxpayer-funded jobs, some of them for people with close personal ties to French.
Ford was not involved in enlisting French to negotiate with the Ottawa protesters, the premier's spokesperson says.
"Neither the premier nor his office has spoken to Mr. French and are not aware of any professional or personal involvements he may have," said Ford's director of media relations Ivana Yelich in an email.
with files from Travis Dhanraj, Mike Crawley