Premier Doug Ford relies on the heads of two lobbying firms for advice, giving them access to his inner circle and influence over Ontario politics through strategic direction, crisis management and input on the recent cabinet shuffle.
The close relationships have been fostered in an ethics environment that critics say allows a blurring of lines between lobbying, political campaigning and advising on government operations.
Chris Froggatt and Kory Teneycke, who started government-relations firms weeks after helping the Progressive Conservative Party win the election last year, have become powerful backroom advisers to the Premier at the same time as their employees lobby his administration. Their firms have each signed up more than two dozen clients, many of which have a financial interest in government initiatives, including liberalizing beer and wine sales, rolling out cannabis retail policies and tendering on public-sector construction contracts.
The strategists, who have no official positions in Mr. Ford’s government, were the only individuals with ties to lobbying firms named as part of the PC Party’s election-readiness committee earlier this year. However, after The Globe and Mail made inquiries about the Premier’s relationship with Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke, the party said Friday the committee had been revamped with additional members, including other lobbyists.
The Premier’s Office said it is appropriate for Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke to provide political advice in their capacity as advisers, adding that Mr. Ford is not aware of and would not tolerate any breaches of the rules. “When it comes to making the right decisions for the people of Ontario, no one can unduly influence Premier Doug Ford,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke say they give the Premier political advice relating to the next election. They say they operate within the rules and never discuss client matters. “When asked, I provided political communication advice on emerging issues, in the context of the 2022 election, and never on client matters,” Mr. Froggatt said in a statement to The Globe.
Mr. Teneycke, who revealed he is the campaign manager for the Premier’s 2022 re-election campaign, said in a statement that he provides “campaign advice consistent with that role,” including relating to polling, fundraising, advertising and election readiness.
In addition to providing advice on last month’s sweeping cabinet shuffle, The Globe has confirmed that Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke were involved with helping the government respond to the fallout over planned funding cuts to public-health units, child care and paramedic services. After growing public opposition and sagging poll numbers, Mr. Ford in May cancelled the cuts to municipalities for this year.
Mr. Froggatt said he only provided political advice after the plan “became a communication challenge.” Mr. Teneycke said he gave his “ongoing view” of the efficacy of the campaign against the cuts, analyzed publicly available polling data and passed on concerns expressed by Toronto Mayor John Tory’s advisers after receiving phone calls from city hall.
In addition, The Globe has confirmed multiple instances when the Premier’s Office dispatched Mr. Froggatt to help manage crises, including negotiating with dissatisfied caucus members.
Critics say Ontario must strengthen its lobbying rules to establish clear guidelines to prevent overlapping roles and eliminate grey areas, while creating more transparency. Lobbyists are paid agents who seek to influence public officials on behalf of their clients.
Mr. Froggatt has not registered as a lobbyist in the province of Ontario, but is registered in the federal and Toronto systems. Mr. Froggatt, who was vice-chair of the PC election campaign and chair of Mr. Ford’s transition team, said he sought advice from Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake and has “refrained from lobbying for one year since the end of transition. His advice is ongoing and I will continue to follow it.”
Mr. Teneycke, who was the party’s election-campaign manager, recently registered on behalf of five clients in Ontario’s lobbyist registry. He said he has also obtained advice from Mr. Wake and does not lobby the Premier, his office or the cabinet office.
Under Ontario law, registered lobbyists are prohibited from placing public office holders, including MPPs, in a conflict of interest, whether real or potential. While the Integrity Commissioner provides confidential advice to individual lobbyists, he has not issued public guidelines on precisely what the rule means, leading to uncertainty about the risk of involvement in political activities.
By contrast, under the federal regime, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying says lobbyists who serve in senior campaign roles for politicians risk creating “a sense of obligation” and should not lobby those individuals or their staff for a full election cycle.
While there are no rules that specifically govern how elected officials interact with lobbyists, Ontario law prohibits MPPs from taking part in making decisions in which there is an opportunity to further their own private interest or to improperly further the private interest of another person. Unlike the federal system, Ontario does not require lobbyists to file reports on each communication they have with public office holders.
The Globe and Mail spoke to more than two dozen Progressive Conservative insiders, including party officials, politicians, current and former aides, and lobbyists about the relationships between the Premier’s Office and Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke. Sources were granted anonymity to speak freely about private discussions or because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Sources consistently describe Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke as members of the Premier’s inner circle who built their lobbying businesses while being given access to the Ford government. While lobbying firms often have relationships with governments, the scope of advice, involvement in government affairs and access to the Premier’s Office by Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke is seen as unusual.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke’s roles extended to making suggestions on which cabinet ministers changed portfolios in last month’s massive shuffle, according to sources. New ministers will help dictate the government’s direction on policies that will affect the private sector. (Mr. Froggatt also provided input on the Premier’s first cabinet while he was on the transition team last summer, sources said.)
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke did not deny they discussed who should be given portfolios in the shuffle, but said the Premier ultimately makes the decision about cabinet roles.
“Client issues have never tainted any advice provided to the Premier with respect to cabinet,” Mr. Teneycke said.
Mr. Froggatt said: “All of my advice is given in the context of the 2022 election.”
Mr. Ford campaigned last year on a populist strategy that criticized what he described as the previous Liberal government’s cozy relationship with insiders and political elites. His government has since faced a cronyism scandal that led his chief of staff, Dean French, to resign abruptly last month after two people with close ties to him were given lucrative foreign appointments, which were later rescinded. The Premier’s Office has not yet announced a permanent replacement.
Mr. French was close with Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke and referred to them as a “three-legged stool,” according to sources familiar with the operations of the Premier’s Office. He relied especially on Mr. Froggatt, a long-time friend, for advice, sometimes telling people he needed to speak with him before discussing an issue, the sources said.
Soon after the government took office, Mr. French met with chiefs of staff to cabinet ministers and asked them which stakeholders and lobbyists they had met with, according to sources who attended the gathering. He added that the Premier and the PC Party owed the election victory in part to Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke. He also praised his two campaign colleagues at the expense of others, suggesting to chiefs of staff that lobbyist Michael Diamond, who ran Mr. Ford’s PC leadership bid, did not play as important a role, sources said. Mr. French backed off after Mr. Diamond learned about the slight and spoke with the Premier, the sources said.
Mr. Diamond declined comment. Mr. French did not respond to questions from The Globe.
Government-relations firms have lost a host of clients to Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke’s companies since they opened last summer. Their influence is so undisputed that lobbyists have sometimes advised clients to also hire one of their firms to carry files in the final push through the Premier’s Office or cabinet, sources said. Government-relations firms typically charge monthly retainers of $10,000 or more, according to sources. Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke declined to disclose their fees.
Their companies have also signed up clients who have not hired lobbyists before, part of an industry-wide boom as companies seek help dealing with the Ford government.
Mr. Froggatt, who was a ministerial chief of staff in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, established Loyalist Public Affairs last August. Asked about his sales pitch to prospective clients, Mr. Froggat said: “We tell clients that we understand this government and its people very well. And we understand how government works.”
Loyalist’s registered lobbyists have represented a range of companies, including the Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario; 3 Sixty Secure Corp., which provides security services for licensed cannabis producers and retailers; Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs Employees LLC, which plans to develop land on Toronto’s waterfront; Canopy Growth Corp., Canada’s largest cannabis company; Bruce Power Inc., a private nuclear generator; and pharmaceutical company Pfizer Canada. (Lobbyists must register each client, lobbying goals and targets in Ontario’s lobbyists registry, which is publicly searchable.)
Mr. Teneycke, who was a director of communications to Mr. Harper, incorporated Rubicon Strategy, a government-relations and digital-marketing firm, in late June, 2018, three weeks after the election.
Registered lobbyists at Rubicon have represented Loblaw Cos. Ltd., the country’s largest grocer; the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Toronto Pearson International Airport; technology giant IBM Canada; the Canadian Online Gaming Alliance, a trade association; packaged-meats company Maple Leaf Foods Inc.; and the Ontario Medical Association, which represents physicians.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke have sometimes found themselves on opposite sides of government policies, including part of a contentious bill designed to open public-sector construction projects to non-unionized workers. Mr. Teneycke’s firm represented two clients that stood to lose from open bidding on contracts – the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario and the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. Mr. Froggatt’s company was hired by the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, which would benefit from the change.
The government ultimately came to what was seen as a compromise at the last minute, giving municipalities and other public-sector entities the choice of opting out of the new rules and maintaining the status quo.
Last November, it was Mr. Froggatt who reached out to MPP Amanda Simard amid rumours she was considering joining the Liberals over cuts to French-language services. Ms. Simard eventually left the Tory caucus to sit as an independent. She declined comment.
Mr. Froggatt was also tapped to negotiate the return of MPP Randy Hillier to caucus after he was suspended in February over alleged disrespectful comments to parents of children with autism. Mr. Hillier said the remarks were directed at the NDP, not parents. Mr. Froggatt proposed a written agreement with Mr. Hillier, saying he could return to caucus on several conditions, including that he remain publicly silent on matters where he disagreed with the government, Mr. Hillier told The Globe.
Over dinner at a restaurant, Mr. Hillier says he asked Mr. Froggatt under whose direction they were meeting. “I have the full confidence of Doug Ford,” Mr. Froggatt said, according to Mr. Hillier, who later refused the deal. “When you are speaking to me, view it as if you are speaking with Doug Ford.”
Asked about his role dealing with Mr. Hillier and Ms. Simard, Mr. Froggatt said: “Keeping elected PC candidates in the Party is PC Party business and not Government of Ontario business.”
Soon after Mr. Hillier was expelled from caucus, he alleged that he was kicked out in part for raising concerns “of possible illegal and unregistered lobbying by close friends and advisers employed by Premier Ford.” He did not specify who he was referring to. The New Democrats forwarded the allegations to the Ontario Provincial Police. On Monday, the police force said the matter was still under review by the anti-rackets branch. The force has not provided any details.
Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke said neither they nor their staff have been contacted by the OPP. Mr. Ford’s spokeswoman said no one from the Premier’s Office has been contacted.
Back when he was still in caucus, Mr. Hillier said he and Mr. Froggatt ended up on the same train between Toronto and Smiths Falls, Ont., in November and had a wide-ranging discussion about cannabis and alcohol policy. Mr. Froggatt spoke openly about his relationship with Mr. Ford’s office and said he was recommending that the government initially permit private-sector retailers to sell beer and wine and add spirits later, Mr. Hillier recalled.
“He was quite instrumental in the development of policies for the Ford administration while at the same time representing clients in those industries,” Mr. Hillier said.
Asked about the conversation, Mr. Froggatt said: “That was a reference to advice I provided to the PC Party on the campaign platform. Before Premier Ford was elected. Not during government.”
Mr. Froggatt also spoke in person to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark about policies governing a proposed cannabis farm in Eastern Ontario’s Beckwith Township, according to an e-mail obtained by The Globe.
In a November e-mail to a policy adviser in the Premier’s office, area resident Michael Maidment wrote that Mr. Froggatt, whom he describes as a friend and former colleague, talked to Mr. Clark about “significant concerns” from local residents about odour from the proposed farm. Mr. Clark was not yet aware of the issue “and expressed an interest to learn more,” the e-mail says.
Mr. Froggatt said he was helping his friend, who is not a client. “Lobbying is advocacy for a paying client. … I asked the minister if it was on his radar. That was all.”
Mr. French also called on Mr. Froggatt for help with the controversy over the aborted hiring of the Premier’s friend, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the next commissioner of the OPP.
Mr. French asked Mr. Froggatt to develop a communications plan for Supt. Taverner. “He needs media training fast!,” Steve Orsini, then Ontario’s top civil servant, wrote in a text that was quoted in a report by the Integrity Commissioner which concluded the recruitment process was “flawed.” Mr. French responded: “I will get Chris Froggatt on rhis [sic].”
And when the Premier ended up in a standoff last fall with the Hydro One board over who should be the next chief executive of the utility, Mr. Froggatt was again asked to intervene.
Mr. Ford’s favoured candidate was Anthony Haines, the current CEO of Toronto Hydro, but the choice was rejected by Hydro One’s independent directors. Mr. Froggatt phoned Mr. Haines and asked him to issue a statement saying he was not interested in the job, according to sources. Mr. Haines refused.
Asked about being called on by the Premier’s Office to help manage crises, Mr. Froggatt said: “I often provide advice on political communications matters as long as they don’t relate to client interests.”
The Premier’s spokeswoman, Ms. Yelich, said: “We are aware that the Premier’s former chief of staff had sought support from Mr. Froggatt in managing communication issues.”
In late January, the PC Party issued a news release announcing the creation of an “election readiness committee” to advise Mr. Ford on the next campaign, more than three years ahead of time. Mr. Froggatt, who was named as chairman, and Mr. Teneycke were the only individuals from lobbying firms on the nine-member committee, which also included Minister Mr. Clark and staffers from the Premier’s Office.
Two weeks later, Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke made a joint presentation to PC MPPs about polling data and re-election strategy during a private, two-day government caucus retreat in Waterloo, Ont.
After The Globe submitted questions to the Premier’s Office last week for this article, Mr. Ford sent an e-mail to PC riding presidents on Friday afternoon announcing the creation of a 17-member “Leader’s advisory council on election readiness” to replace the election-readiness committee. Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke are still members, but the group now includes nine other long-time conservative activists who are lobbyists or have ties to government-relations firms. The committee no longer has any public office holders.
Mr. Ford’s relationships with lobbyists have been criticized by advocacy group Democracy Watch, which has filed complaints with the Integrity Commissioner about a lobbyist who worked on the party’s election campaign in addition to lobbyists who helped organize the Premier’s fundraising dinner. Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said he plans to also request investigations into Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke.
Mr. Wake provided 16 confidential advisory opinions to lobbyists who participated in political activity before the election last year, but his office noted that the commissioner cannot by law disclose whether he is conducting an investigation related to lobbying.
Mr. Conacher has called on Mr. Wake to issue a public interpretation bulletin on the law prohibiting lobbyists from placing public officials in a conflict of interest, noting it is at the heart of the Lobbyists Registration Act.
Michelle Renaud, a spokeswoman for the Integrity Commissioner, said the potential activities covered in the rule “do not lend themselves to a generalized interpretation bulletin. The Commissioner has found that as the facts vary from one lobbyist to another, it is most useful to provide fact-specific advice.”
Federally, the rules are more clear. The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying issued a guideline spelling out the risks for lobbyists who work in strategic political roles, such as chairing a campaign or helping candidates prepare for debates. “If you undertake political activities on behalf of a person who is or becomes a public office holder, they can reasonably be perceived to be in a conflict of interest if you lobby them. A public office holder who benefits from political activities may have a sense of obligation towards those who undertook the activities.”
In addition, Mr. Conacher argues that Mr. Ford could risk violating the Members’ Integrity Act if he participates in decision-making relating to clients of Loyalist or Rubicon because it could improperly further the private interests of Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Teneycke. Even though Mr. Froggatt is not a registered lobbyist in Ontario and Mr. Teneycke has a handful of registrations, Mr. Conacher noted they derive income from lobbying work done by their employees.
“You can’t have this arrangement where, ‘Hey, I’m not lobbying, it’s all fine’,” he said. “Yeah, but you’re financially benefiting and everyone knows you head the firm up and it’s your lobbyists and you can’t just try and wend your way through the law and say, ‘Technically it’s all okay, because I’m not registered.’”
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