Friday, May 24, 2024

Ford’s pick to head government’s new Ottawa office panned as ‘patronage appointment’ | CBC News

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Premier Doug Ford says his government’s new office in Ottawa will help get results for the city, but the opposition is panning his pick to lead it as political patronage.

Ford named Sean Webster, who unsuccessfully ran for the Progressive Conservatives in Kanata–Carleton in a byelection last year, to head a regional office intended to “support better services for the people of Ottawa and the surrounding region.”

Ford said Webster is a “talented individual” who will do “an incredible job” advocating for the city. He said Webster, who was previously an executive with cannabis company Canopy Growth Corporation, has both private and public sector experience and is well-known in Ottawa.

He said Webster will be a “touchpoint person” linking his government to Ottawa, making sure the city and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe are “well taken care of.”

Sutcliffe welcomed the announcement, calling it a “very, very positive step forward” that demonstrates the premier’s commitment to the city. But opposition parties quickly zeroed in on Webster’s past run for Ford’s party.

Sean Webster ran for the Progressive Conservatives in the Kanata-Carleton byelection last year. (Supplied)

Politicians critical

In an email statement to CBC News, Ottawa city councillor Shawn Menard said the city “should not be treated like some faraway place” and said concerns from residents in the nation’s capital should be “top of mind daily” for the premier’s office and legislature.

“A regional office headed by a failed political candidate is a far cry from the attention and prominence the city deserves,” Menard wrote.

Ottawa South Liberal MPP John Fraser called Webster’s appointment an example of the government rewarding “friends and insiders and the well-connected.” He said Ottawa’s interests would be better served with a seat at the cabinet table. 

In a media release, the Ontario NDP caucus called it “a patronage appointment.”

“This is a track record for Doug Ford: he tends to appoint people who don’t win elections to perk positions,” said Joel Harden, the NDP MPP for Ottawa Centre.

Harden said the money the province is spending on Webster’s salary and his staff would be better spent on improving front-line services.

“That’s what the premier should be focusing on, not this gimmicky stuff,” said Harden.

The regional office is expected to cost $1.7 million in operating costs per year. It will be located in downtown Ottawa with a total of seven staff. 

According to Ford, the office is meant to help implement the “new deal” his government signed with Ottawa last month, with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to support priorities like infrastructure and housing.

But a chunk of that funding is conditional on the federal government pitching in matching funding, which didn’t materialize in the most recent federal budget, except to support the Ottawa Police Service.

In a media release, the provincial government said the new office will support better engagement with both municipal and federal governments.

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