Doug Ford’s Gravy Train Hits IMCO?

Ontario's New Democrats are accusing Finance Minister Rod Phillips of political patronage:
In one of his first acts as Finance Minister, Rod Phillips appointed one of his major donors and long-time business partner Neil Selfe to the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario (IMCO). Another long-time Phillips business associate, Brian Gibson, was also quietly appointed to the IMCO board on June 20.

Official Opposition NDP MPP Taras Natyshak said Doug Ford and the Conservatives are continuing to rubber-stamp patronage appointments of close friends and insiders to key roles. That’s why Natyshak and the NDP are calling on these and all recent Conservative appointees to appear before the Standing Committee on Government Agencies to face questions about potential conflicts of interest, and their qualifications.

“It’s troubling that Phillips’ first move as Ontario’s Finance Minister was to hand out a couple tickets on Doug Ford’s gravy train, rather than get to work on the things that matter to Ontario families,” said Natyshak. “Ontarians have a lot of questions about why his former business buddies are now in charge of directing multi-billion dollar investments, including people’s public sector pensions and investment funds.

“Time and time again, the Ford government manages to rubber-stamp their friends and insiders to taxpayer funded positions, robbing Ontario families of transparency and scrutiny. These insiders are getting power, control over public funds, or a ride on the gravy train — while the rest of us are getting cuts.”

Selfe and Gibson are just the latest in a string of appointments that have skirted public scrutiny, with Earl Provost, former chief of staff to Rob Ford, and Jag Badwal, real estate agent and former Conservative party president, gifted appointments, complete with salaries of up to $185,000 along with living expenses in exotic locales as Ontario’s “agents-general” — positions that were scrapped as unnecessary in the 1990s.

The IMCO is supposed to operate independently of government and is tasked with achieving the long-term investment objectives of Ontarians. Natyshak said the goal of questioning these appointees at committee is ensuring the appointees put the interests of Ontarians above all else.

“No one voted for the Conservatives to secretly appoint their friends and allies to taxpayer-funded positions,” said Natyshak. “If Ford’s ministers are going to continue to rubber stamp these positions, then the opposition must be given every opportunity to call these appointees to committee and ensure that they face the level of scrutiny that Ontario families expect.”
This hasn't been a good week for Premier Doug Ford. Rob Ferguson of the Toronto Star just published an article on the people in the cronyism scandal that has rocked his government.

Fifty-seven per cent of Ontario voters believe Ford's government is corrupt and 63 per cent say it has given too many jobs to Ford’s “cronies,” according to a new poll.

The NDP has been hammering Ford on a series of "gravy train" appointments, including Katherine Pal who resigned from the Public Accountants Council. Pal is the niece of Dean French’s wife. French was until recently Doug Ford's chief of staff (he resigned late Friday after the premier rescinded the appointments of two people with reported personal ties to him).

Someone emailed me to look into why David Leith, the former Chair of the Board of IMCO, left on July 1st. "It just doesn't smell right."

The truth is I don't know why David Leith left IMCO. I cannot comment on that but I would be curious to know why he left since he has excellent credentials.

As far as the recent appointments to IMCO's board of two people who previously served on a board with new Finance Minister Rod Phillips, a spokeswoman said Vic Fedeli made the appointments while he was still finance minister by ministerial letter, so they did not get approved by cabinet. Phillips had no involvement.

I'm not going to accuse Doug Ford's government of meddling with IMCO, but if it does, it will be the downfall of that organization. Period.

As far as the two people in question -- Neil Selfe and Brian Gibson -- they both have excellent credentials and I only know one of them, Brian Gibson.

Gibson worked at Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan for years, he's extremely smart and highly competent, Leo de Bever hired him to consult AIMCo for a while after he left Teachers'.

If you look at IMCO's Board, you will see two former powerhouses from Ontario Teachers', Bob Bertram, the inaugural CIO at Teachers' and Brian Gibson:

Now, I'm not going to lie to you, if I had Bob Bertram and Brian Gibson sitting on my board, it would make me a little nervous. They're both brilliant, have tons of experience which is a huge plus, but I'd be worried they'd try to micromanage the portfolios.

Still, having worked at Teachers', I'm convinced they both understand good governance and won't overstep their respective roles. Sitting on a board is very different from being an investment manager and they both understand this.

When you look at the qualifications of the rest of the board, you'll see everyone on that board is extremely qualified. That is a huge advantage for IMCO's members.

All this to say I'd take accusations of Doug Ford's gravy train hitting IMCO with a grain of salt. I don't trust the man and believe his government is highly corrupt but when it comes to IMCO, I'm not sure he has much influence to hire and fire board members at will.

And if he does get the bonehead idea of trying to interfere with IMCO's operations in any way, it will cost him politically.

By the way, I'm not taking political sides here. I'm sure Kathleen Wynne's government had its own gravy train going on and it probably helped Bert Clark, IMCO's CEO, that his father Ed Clark had close ties to Ontario's former premier (he was a senior advisor to Wynne).

But Bert got appointed on his own merits and because of his experience leading Infrastructure Ontario. He's also doing a great job at IMCO, putting the right people in the right positions and implementing the right long-term strategy.

Someone told me recently "if I were Bert Clark, I'd be nervous about Doug Ford" to which I replied: "No public pension CEO in Canada should be nervous of any political figure."

That's my final point on this topic, keep public pensions as far away from governments as possible, let their independent governance structure work its magic.

Below, another public appointee with ties to Doug Ford's former Chief of Staff, Dean French, has resigned. Ian Neita is now the sixth person to either resign or be let go since the appointment scandal erupted.

Doug Ford's gravy train is out of control but keep in mind, all governments abuse their power to one extent or another. His government better smarten up, however, and stop this nonsense once and for all.

Update: See my follow-up comment here for more on IMCO's board shakeup.