Government & Policy
Ontario fires technology advisor Peter Fenwick
July 10, 2019
TORONTO – The Ontario government’s first “strategic transformation advisor” was abruptly sacked after the Toronto Star revealed his long-time ties to Premier Doug Ford’s former chief of staff, Dean French, who left government two weeks ago amid a cronyism scandal.
Peter Fenwick (pictured), a senior bureaucrat in the cabinet office, was dismissed “effective immediately” by the province’s top civil servant, Steven Davidson.
Davidson said the decision followed an evaluation of the role created last fall to help government departments become more efficient. “As a result of the review, the transformation office in cabinet office is being dissolved,” he wrote in a memo to deputy ministers obtained by the Star.
“I want to thank Peter for his contributions and wish him the best in his future endeavours.”
A senior government source told the Star the review of Fenwick’s office began a week after French’s sudden departure. “We didn’t feel the objectives of his original appointment were being met,” the source said privately in order to discuss internal deliberations.
“We now have an expanded cabinet that can better achieve the objectives of the transformation office internally,” added the source, referring to a recent shuffle that increased Ford’s cabinet by one-third.
No information on severance pay for Fenwick was available. He was in the job for eight months.
As first revealed on thestar.com, Fenwick has been a life insurance customer of French’s for at least 20 years.
Hailed as a “distinguished technology innovation leader” when hired for the brand new position last November, Fenwick confirmed his relationship with French to the newspaper as questions continued to swirl about the influence of the premier’s former right-hand man in hiring and appointments.
“I have known him for a long time,” Fenwick told the Star when asked if French, a veteran Etobicoke insurance broker, played any role in his recruitment for the job that pays in the deputy minister salary range of $234,080 to $320,130 annually.
“All I can tell you is I’ve been a customer of Dean, so now technically a customer of London Life,” Fenwick added, noting their relationship dates to the “late ’90s.”
French stepped down as Ford’s chief of staff on June 28, just hours after the premier revoked lucrative patronage appointments French had arranged for his wife’s cousin and a friend of his son.
Following another revelation of a French connection to an appointment last week, a government insider told the Toronto Star that Ford “hit the roof.” He pledged an internal review of “all pending appointments” and sent a damage-control memo to his Progressive Conservative MPPs stating French “no longer has any influence in this government.”
The opposition Liberals called for the legislature’s ethics watchdog to conduct an independent review of all government appointments since Ford took power a year ago.
Fenwick, who was previously managing director at his consulting firm Fenwick & Associates and senior provincial director at Alberta Health Services in charge of innovation, said he first got a call about the Ontario job last year from Steve Orsini, then the province’s top civil servant as secretary of cabinet.
“I appreciate you’re an investigative journalist and I respect your profession,” he replied when asked how Orsini got his name.
Cabinet office spokesman Craig Sumi confirmed Fenwick’s role is a new position in the government but would not comment on whether there was a public job posting or executive search firm hired to recruit suitable applicants, how many other people were interviewed, or detail any involvement by French. “We don’t comment on HR matters,” Sumi said.
In his blog widely read within the civil service, Orsini has previously mentioned searches for deputy ministers and other staff but there were no references to seeking a strategic transformation officer after Ford’s government was sworn in.
In a blog memo to civil servants last November, Orsini wrote that Fenwick would “lead the system transformation office in cabinet office to support crosscutting transformational initiatives that require an enterprise response to systemic change. His deep experience will support all-of-government initiatives to drive greater efficiencies in the delivery of public services.”
Fenwick said French was not on the interview panel, and that he was “not directly involved” with the former chief of staff on the job since early last November.