Doug Ford is blaming the "mess" he inherited from his predecessor for his controversial decision to appoint about a dozen Tory candidates in ridings across Ontario, while critics pounced on the new leader's decision, accusing him of going back on his promise to clean up the troubled Progressive Conservative nomination process.
The Tory leader says the appointments — announced over the weekend — were necessary because of the short time left before the province's spring election campaign begins in early May.
Ford, who criticized former Tory leader Patrick Brown for making appointments in the past, said he loathes the practice.
"I want to emphasize, I hate, hate, appointing people," Ford said Monday. "Unfortunately, the mess that we handed to us from the previous leadership, was quite the disaster to be frank with you there."
Ford said there were 28 ridings without Tory candidates when he took over as leader in March, and his team was able to fill 17 through traditional nomination races. Appointments were made for the remaining 11 ridings on Saturday.
"If we'd continued on with the other 11, it would probably take us right into almost election day," Ford said. "It takes massive resources to put these nominations on."
Several Tory nomination candidates have publicly complained about the appointments, calling them unfair.
Jake Skinner, a school board trustee in London, Ont., who was seeking the Tory nomination in a riding in that city, said the appointment of another candidate left him "in a state of shock." In a statement released Saturday, he said he was informed of the appointment after two years of campaigning for the position.
"As Progressive Conservatives we know that nominations should be earned, not bestowed," he said in a statement.
During the Tory leadership race, made necessary by Brown's abrupt resignation over sexual misconduct allegations in January, Ford repeatedly vowed to clean up a number of the party's controversial nomination races.
"When I'm leader I'm going to make sure they're transparent, people are held accountable and there's going to be integrity here," he said at the Tory leadership debate in late February.
The party reopened several races shortly after Ford was elected leader.
Deb Matthews, Liberal campaign co-chair, said Ford's decision to back-track on the pledge he made during the Tory leadership race speaks to his character.
"Doug Ford said he would not do this," she said. "That's a pretty big signal that he is not a man of his word."
Matthews acknowledged that the Liberal Party constitution gives Premier Wynne the power to appoint up to five candidates prior to an election, something she has done three times in the run up to the spring vote.
But what Ford has done is different, she said.
"First of all, he said he wasn't going to do this and now he's done it and he hasn't just done it once, he's done it 11 times," she said. "He hasn't done it to achieve any particular end. I think what our Premier does is she appoints people for diversity reasons or there's a strategy behind each one."
NDP legislator Peter Tabuns criticized both the Tories and Liberals for allowing appointments.
"In the NDP we don't have appointments," he said. "We have contested nominations. ... when you actually try and mobilize a community around a candidate having someone who has come up from that community ... makes a big difference when it comes election day."
Ontario's election is set for June 7.