Staley: Keith Wilson, Dean French and a billionaire with an idea

Diverge Media is an independent media outlet dedicated to bringing you the stories that matter.

By: Greg Staley

Written On: 2023-02-26

What are we to make of a former Liberal Party candidate and billionaire (Frank Stronach) going to lunch with Convoy lawyer Keith Wilson’s chosen “go-between” to open up backchannel communications with the city of Ottawa? What are we to think when this former Liberal Party candidate had an idea that Mr. French wanted to convey to Mr. Wilson and the very next day Keith Wilson and company are off discussing the removal of trucks from neighbourhoods in Ottawa?

Keep in mind, the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson had spoken with the Prime Minister on February 8th and said that the Freedom Convoy protesters were “nasty” and “vulgar” people. This is the same day that convoy lawyer Keith Wilson met with the city manager Steve Kanellakos. So the same Mayor who detested the convoy participants and was “initially reluctant” about the idea of his city manager meeting with the protesters had come around on the idea when it came to consolidating trucks onto Wellington street – as is evidenced by his letter to Tamara Lich.

Staley: Keith Wilson, Dean French and a billionaire with an idea
Former Liberal candidate and Billionaire Frank Stronach had an idea

To add a layer of intrigue to the story, In text communications with Dean French on February 7th, the former Chief of staff for Premier Doug Ford, told Mr. Wilson that he was having lunch with Frank Stronach and that Mr. Stronach was a “huge supporter” and that he had an idea. The very next day (February 8th) Keith Wilson was meeting with the city to discuss the movement of trucks out of residential neighbourhoods.

Suggestion to move trucks out of neighbourhoods came from Ottawa Police service?

The irony of the situation is that the idea to move trucks was suggested by Ottawa Police according to testimony by Steve K, Ottawa’s city manager. During Mr. Kanellakos’s testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission, he testified that it was a police officer from the police liaison team that suggested that he “ask them to move the trucks out of some of the neighbourhoods” to which Mr. Kanellakos responded that would “be a good thing.”

Deputy Chief Bell also testified that he “wanted to have as many people voluntarily leave” as possible so that they could “shrink the footprint” and have “less people to remove” – something the deal to consolidate trucks onto Wellington seems to coincide well with.

In email communications with Diverge Media, Mr. Wilson informed us that “Tom and the board fully understood the risks of a smaller footprint” and that it “was obvious and fully considered.”

Billionaire Frank Stronach wrote in the Toronto Star that truckers “should now withdraw”

What is especially odd however, is that Frank Stronach, the former Liberal candidate and billionaire wrote an article just 4 days (February 11th) after the text from Mr. French was sent to Keith Wilson titled “Protesting truckers in Ottawa deserve to be heard – but it’s time for them to withdraw.

This smacks of similarity in my view to what Mr. Wilson, Tom Marazzo and Eva Chipiuk ultimately discussed with the city of Ottawa just one day after Mr. Wilson received that text from Dean French – that is the removal of trucks from residential neighbourhoods. I think it’s fair to say that some would view the move to remove trucks from residential neighbourhoods as not only giving up leverage but as a withdrawal of sorts.

Wilson says he could have had a “communist” act as the go-between with the city of Ottawa – “they’re just facilitating the dialogue”

“In an interview with the author of “The Prime Minister who stole Freedom,” Derek Smith, Convoy lawyer Keith Wilson said it didn’t matter who the “go-between” with the city was in this discussion. It could’ve been a “radical market economist or a communist” because they were just “facilitating dialogue.” That’s why according to Mr. Wilson, it didn’t matter that Doug Ford’s former Chief of staff and friend Dean French was the go-between with the city.

By that definition, it could’ve been Chrystia Freeland acting as the go-between with the city or perhaps Premier Doug Ford himself.

We asked Mr. Wilson why he said it didn’t matter that Dean French was the go-between with the city of Ottawa and he responded by saying “respectfully, regarding your third question, it reveals that you have never been involved in a complex, sophisticated, multi party negotiation before. The facilitator of a negotiation has zero input into the final agreement. None. That is simply not how it works.”

Wilson didn’t inform clients of Freedom Convoy that he was in discussions with Dean French until after he had already begun speaking with him

When I asked Mr. Wilson if he informed the truckers on the ground that he was in negotiations with the city he told Diverge Media that he had “strongly recommended” that they try to “open up back channels of negotiations” but it also became clear that he hadn’t informed the board that Dean French was involved until after he had already begun that discussion – at least that’s how it reads to me.

Responding to our question, Wilson said the following: “Once I started talking to French, I briefed the board that I was in discussions.” This would indicate that he began discussions with Dean French without the board’s (or all of the board’s) knowledge and then informed them once he had already begun those discussions.

Mr. Wilson again alluded to not informing the board later in our email communications when he said that “he might have not mentioned Dean’s name in the first couple days” as he was “dancing with himto see if they “could build trust.”

When we reached out to board members about Dean French’s involvement we didn’t receive confirmation from those we had contacted that the board knew about Mr. French’s involvement until after he had already become involved in negotiations with the city. Although, Mr. Wilson says Miranda Gasior was aware of the deal. However, when we spoke to the Convoy’s accountant and treasurer of the board, Chad Eros, he told us that he “didn’t know anything about Dean French or a mediator” or a deal with the city until the topic arose at a February 11th meeting. Keep in mind that Wilson told us he began communications with Dean French on the 6th of February.

Chris Garrah also told Diverge Media that there was no “resolution or decision of the board of directors” for the Freedom 2022 non-profit corporation and Mr. Garrah also said he was never invited to, nor did he attend a board meeting of the directors of the Freedom Convoy to discuss such a thing. Brigitte Belton also doesn’t recall Dean French being discussed.

What idea did former Liberal party candidate Frank Stronach communicate with Doug Ford’s former chief of staff? According to convoy lawyer Keith Wilson, it was apparently Dean French’s idea and not Mr. Stronach’s. The idea allegedly was to have “Frank Stronach write an opinion piece in a national newspaper.” That opinion piece was ultimately published and we have shared it in this article. It’s the article that Mr. Stronach wrote for the Toronto Star saying that truckers should withdraw.

Mr. Wilson told Diverge Media that he “did not care about” the idea because he “did not think an opinion piece in a national newspaper would have any significant effect on ending government mandates, or the goals of the freedom convoy.” Mr. Wilson was also pointed in saying “that’s what the text is referring to and nothing more.” 

Why is it that just one day after Mr. Stronach’s lunch meeting with Dean French, convoy lawyer Keith Wilson was off making a deal with the city? The more I research this story, the more questions I’m left with. It’s probably all a coincidence though.

We reached out to Mr. Stronach for comment on this article but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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