Premier Doug Ford minister Kinga Surma’s father working as Queen’s Park political aide, sources say
|Toronto Star 27 Jun 2019 at 13:24|
As Premier Doug Ford copes with a nepotism scandal that cost him his trusted chief of staff, Dean French, it has emerged the father of newly minted Associate Transportation Minister Kinga Surma is working as a political aide.
Two senior Progressive Conservative insiders confirmed to the Star what was first reported by iPolitics on Wednesday night.
Miroslaw Surma, who did not return messages Thursday, serves as a policy adviser to Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli.
His daughter, Kinga, is the Tory MPP from Etobicoke Centre, who was elevated to cabinet in last Thursday’s major cabinet shuffle.
“He’s a very nice man and he’s there every day,” said one senior Tory insider, speaking confidentially in order discuss internal human resources matters.
A second high-ranking official confirmed that the Ottawa man joined the Ontario government shortly after the Conservatives were sworn in a year ago Saturday.
Surma has served under former ministers Jim Wilson and Todd Smith during his tenure at Queen’s Park.
Kinga Surma, a long-time Ford friend and member of the premier’s inner circle, did not return messages Thursday.
But Ford’s office emphasized that “every staff member in the government is hired based on merit.”
“If they do not perform to the standards expected they are removed from their positions. We will not comment further on internal staffing matters,” Kayla Iafelice, the premier’s director of media relations, said Thursday.
Last November, the first-term MPP spoke in the legislature about the sacrifices her parents made for her, fleeing communist Poland when she was 4 years old.
“It was a number of years before members of my family could return home,” she said.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mom and dad, Margaret and Miroslaw Surma, for never budging and always encouraging me to do my Polish assignments on Friday, driving me to my lessons and making that sacrifice for so many years.”
At a news conference on the government’s digital strategy Thursday, Government and Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson faced questions from reporters on the mounting cronyism problems.
“Going forward … we’ll be reviewing everyone to make sure that they received their appointment based on their merits and their expertise,” Thompson said at the Royal Ontario Museum, adding she has no relatives working directly for the Ford government.
“I’m disappointed, as is the premier, in what has happened,” she said.
Asked for a second time about Surma’s father, she tried to steer questions to the digital strategy.
“But the fact of the matter is we need to be better, and we will be united as a team in terms of making sure that anyone that works for government or is appointed to a committee or a board will have the expertise and they will have done so on their own merits.”
Thompson evaded questions on whether the review of pending government appointments should be carried out by an independent body.
During last year’s election campaign, it was disclosed that Ford was secretly taped assuring Tim Hortons patrons that they would not have to pay for PC memberships, a breach of party rules, while he was soliciting support for Surma during a 2016 nomination battle.
While he denied the bogus membership allegations, saying he had never purchased $10 PC memberships for any candidate, he did not dispute the authenticity of the audio recording.
“I am also requesting an investigation and public ruling on the actions of Premier Ford concerning ensuring Mr. French complied with provincial ethics rules, and possibly also violating the Members’ Integrity Act if he was involved in the selection of the appointees,” continued Conacher.
French, a Ford friend of some 25 years, resigned as the premier’s chief of staff last Friday night after it was revealed he had awarded six-figure government jobs to his son’s friend, Tyler Albrecht, and his wife’s cousin, Taylor Shields.
Albrecht would have earned $164,910 a year as Ontario’s agent general in New York and Shields was to have made $185,000 as the trade representative in London, England.
Two other appointees remain: ex-PC party president Jag Badwal, a realtor, is being dispatched to Dallas, Texas; Earl Provost, a one-time Ontario Liberal party executive director and former chief of staff to the late mayor Rob Ford, is headed to Chicago. Each will earn $164,910 plus expenses.
On Tuesday, French’s niece resigned as a provincial appointee on the Public Accountants Council . Katherine Pal had been named to the council on Dec. 31 and earned $700 per meeting with four being held annually.
The council is headed by lawyer Gavin Tighe, who acts for both French and Ford.
Tighe, who earns $166,000 as chair of the industry-funded panel, told Newstalk 1010’s Moore In The Morning on Wednesday that Pal was “a remarkably qualified individual.”