TORONTO — There are now five former Ford government staffers working as lobbyists or publicists with for-profit long-term care providers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brayden Akers registered to lobby his former employer, the Ontario government, on behalf of Sienna Senior Living Inc. on June 1. The company has hired Navigator, where Akers works as a consultant, to represent them. Navigator describes itself as “Canada’s leading high stakes public strategy and communications firm.”
Akers previously worked as director of communications to Greg Rickford, Ontario’s minister of northern development, energy, mines and Indigenous affairs, according to a biography posted on Navigator’s website.
Navigator said in May 2019 that it hired Akers directly from Rickford’s office.
The Ontario NDP previously revealed that four other Progressive Conservative (PC) insiders, including three of the current government’s former staff, are lobbying for long-term care companies.
“This is nothing short of absolutely scandalous,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said at the time.
A spokesperson for Navigator said the company does not discuss its work with clients.
Sienna responded to HuffPost Canada’s questions with a brief statement.
“We can confirm that we hire consultants in all areas of our business,” spokesperson Natalie Gokchenian said.
“This is nothing short of absolutely scandalous.”
Former PC staffers are also doing public relations work for long-term care companies.
Jessica Trepanier, Minister Caroline Mulroney’s former press secretary, confirmed to HuffPost Friday that she is working on behalf of Southbridge Care Homes. She is an account manager for reputation and crisis management firm Smithcom, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Neither Trepanier nor Southbridge responded to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the premier forwarded questions to a spokesperson for Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton.
HuffPost asked how the government will ensure that its independent commission into long-term care, announced in the wake of COVID-19, will be fair when many of the companies involved have hired former PC staff.
“The independent commission will be non-partisan and will prioritize transparency,” Gillian Sloggett said by email.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on the province’s long-term care homes. Many of the companies that run these homes are facing lawsuits and accusations of neglect.
Sienna, the company that Akers is lobbying for, was included in a Canadian Armed Forces report that revealed conditions Premier Doug Ford called “appalling.”
Soldiers who were sent to work at one Sienna home, Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, Ont., found that residents were not being fed properly, many had pressure wounds from being confined to their beds for so long and one non-verbal resident alleged “disturbing” abuse at the hands of an employee.
Fifty-three residents have died after contracting the novel coronavirus at Altamont and another 193 people have died of the virus at the company’s other homes in Ontario.
Sienna made $669.7 million in revenue last year.
Southbridge also owns a home that was included in the CAF report.
The military said it found staff were not following infection control practices at Orchard Villa Retirement Residence in Pickering, Ont., where 70 people have died of COVID-19. Soldiers also said they saw one resident choke to death after being fed lying down and that the home was infested with cockroaches and flies.
At least 56 others have died of the novel coronavirus in Southbridge’s other homes.
Southbridge’s financial reports are not public. Some of its homes, including Orchard Villa, are managed by Extendicare, a company that owns or manages dozens of long-term care homes across Canada. Extendicare made $1.13 billion in 2019.
This story has been updated with comment from Navigator.