Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ford faces dissent over decision to create Ottawa office led by defeated candidate |

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford said it’s up to his chief of staff to determine the salary of the government’s latest public appointee, as his office remains tight-lipped about the compensation package being offered to a one-time Progressive Conservative candidate.

On Monday, Ford announced that Sean Webster, the PC party’s candidate who lost the 2023 byelection in Kanata-Carleton, would lead a new regional office in Ottawa to “support greater engagement with both municipal and federal governments.”

While the office, Ford said, was “long overdue,” the financial details are being kept under wraps.

“I leave it to the chief of staff to determine salary,” Ford said when asked what Webster would be paid and added that he didn’t immediately know the number himself.

Multiple requests for Webster’s salary and official title were left unanswered by the Premier’s Office.

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Ford, however, also faced internal caucus dissent over his decision to open the office, with one Ottawa-area MPP refusing to attend the announcement because they said the office was “not a great idea.”

“I don’t agree with the Ottawa regional office,” Lisa MacLeod, Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean, wrote in an email sent to the premier’s office and seen by Global News.

“It’s not a great idea, and I won’t attend.”

Accusations of patronage appointment

The announcement MacLeod refused to attend took place in Ottawa on Monday, with Ford in the nation’s capital to promote a new space the government is prompting as a “regional office.”

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The office was pitched by the premier as a place for local residents to complain and raise issues, as well as a “central link” between Ottawa’s municipal government and Ford’s cabinet. Ontario also said it would be “an important link” with the federal government.

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“Today’s announcement is further evidence that our government takes Ottawa’s position as our second-largest city and a service and economic hub for eastern Ontario seriously,” Ford said.

The premier was asked if he was setting up the office because there is no direct representation from Ottawa in his cabinet. “I wouldn’t say it’s a replacement,” he said.

Webster, who leads the office, has lobbied for an energy company, a marijuana company and Shoppers Drug Mart in his career. The premier said Webster would be a “touch point person,” working out of the office alongside provincial civil servants.

“I think he’s going to do an incredible job,” Ford said. “Focus: customer service excellence, as all of our MPPs do on a daily basis. But also be able to advocate to the federal government, work with making sure Ottawa and the mayor are well taken care of.”

Click to play video: 'Cost of premier’s office surges under Doug Ford'

Cost of premier’s office surges under Doug Ford

Ontario Liberal MPP Stephen Blais, who also represents the Ottawa area, said giving the role to a former candidate was an example of “the gravy train,” a reference to wasteful spending.

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“With the appointment of defeated Kanata-Carleton @OntarioPCParty candidate Sean Webster to lead new political office in #Ottawa, instead of appointing a political Minister – the gravy train has officially passed through (Ottawa),” Blais wrote in a social media post.

The Liberals have focused on the accusation Ford is running a gravy train — using language from his city hall days — since it was revealed the number of staff earning more than $100,000 in the premier’s office had doubled since he was elected.

Ford faces further caucus dissent

MacLeod’s decision not to attend the event — at which three other PC MPPs from the Ottawa area featured — comes after a tense couple of weeks within Ford’s caucus.

The Nepean representative was one of several MPPs to defy the premier over the keffiyeh ban that has spread dissent within his party over recent weeks.

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Originally, Ford and the premier’s office told MPPs who wanted to maintain a ban on the traditional Arab headdress to stay away from a vote on the matter, only for one — PC MPP Robin Martin — to defy the order.

Later, on social media and in a subsequent statement, MacLeod backed Martin’s decision to support the ban.

“As the longest serving woman at Queen’s Park I support his ruling because it keeps with tradition and reminds members to keep our debates focused on words rather than on political props,” she wrote on April 18.

“This ruling was consistent with so many others over years by numerous speakers and true to his unimpeachable character, Speaker Arnott chose parliamentary convention over political weather veins (sic).”

Although Ford eventually allowed his MPPs to vote freely on the contentious issue — saying it was a very “sensitive” issue within his party — MacLeod shared her public support for Martin before the premier stopped trying to whip his members on the issue.

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