It’s tough job — and Earl Provost has to do it.
Serving as chief of staff to embattled Mayor Rob Ford is perhaps the most taxing political post in Canada.
Entrusted with this largely thankless gig — that will pay him between $136,000 and $150,000 a year to work seven days a week — is a Liberal stalwart.
Provost was busy his first full week on the job beating the bushes for candidates to replenish Ford’s depleted staff.
Insiders confided the mayor, who has suffered an exodus that threatens to empty his scandal-rocked office, offered raises to hold on to his remaining staffers.
The famously tight-fisted mayor amiably mentioned the increases to the dozen or so remaining aides in one-one-one meetings Thursday.
The amounts varied depending upon the roles they play in the office, the sources say.
Ford denied boosting salaries to retain aides. “No,” the mayor said gruffly Friday during a news conference outside his office, where reporters have camped out for days since the crack video debacle.
Despite his entreaties, two staff members — policy adviser Brian Johnston and the mayor’s executive assistant Kia Nejatian — resigned Thursday.
They joined former chief of staff Mark Towhey, who was fired May 23 after urging Ford to seek help for his health, and press secretary George Christopoulos and communications special assistant Isaac Ransom, who quit Monday “on principle.”
Another aide, special assistant Michael Prempeh, left Friday. He had told colleagues weeks earlier that he planned to leave.
Ford moved Friday to counter the appearance of chaos, saying he had hired three “movers and shakers” and expects to hire another three or four early next week.
New faces include special assistant Katrina Xavier-Ponniah, a recent Mount Allison University graduate.
The departures all came after the Star and U.S. website Gawker reported the existence of a video apparently showing the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
Ford has denied the allegations and played down his office turmoil.
The mayor’s new interim press secretary, Sunny Petrujkic, did not return an email from the Star to comment on the pay increases.
Sources say Provost, who also did not respond to two emails requesting comment from the Star, has been lobbied by some of his departed colleagues to leave Ford’s office.
“(They) have been pleading with him,” said one longtime pal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing private conversations.
At one point last weekend, his friends believed he would join Christopoulos and Ransom in a mass resignation, but he apparently had a change of heart.
Provost is a longtime Liberal. He was the first delegate elected to former prime minister Paul Martin’s leadership campaign in 1990 and has many friends in federal Liberal circles but far fewer at Queen’s Park.
Some of them have been imploring the hard-working bachelor for weeks to escape the maelstrom that is Ford’s office.
“But Earl is loyal to his party and he’s loyal to the mayor,” said the friend. “We want to get him out of there because we care about him and this is not a tenable situation.”
A Grit stalwart, his office boasts signed portraits of former premier Dalton McGuinty — who, oddly, never wanted to hire him — and ex-federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
Another friend said Provost, a graduate of both George Washington University and York University, surprised his Liberal allies when he joined the Progressive Conservative Ford’s successful 2010 mayoral campaign.
“Earl is an effective mercenary. When he’s with you, he is with you. But he understands there is a bigger game and he’s determined to be part of it,” said the second chum, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly.
Insiders say he is excellent at stakeholder relations, no easy task with a mayor who keeps a light work schedule and who has behaved erratically at events.
The Scarborough native ran to be a school board trustee in 1991 and supported controversial former councillor Tom Jakobek’s doomed 2003 mayoral bid.
But his municipal political career took a turn for the better three years ago.
That’s when he was enlisted onto a Ford campaign that was seen as such a longshot that Star was the only daily newspaper to cover his launch that spring.
Provost, as deputy campaign manager, proved his mettle as an effective organizer and headed Ford’s election-day team, which crushed one-time front-runner George Smitherman, also a Liberal.
He then moved to become Ford’s deputy chief of staff and director of stakeholder and council relations, working quietly behind the scenes as Towhey’s fiercely loyal second-in-command.
When the mayor sacked his chief of staff last week, no one was surprised Provost was tapped with the monumental task of trying to right a ship that many feel has already hit the iceberg.
He now faces what his friends fear is an impossible challenge.
“The longer Earl stays in there, the longer he is tied to these guys,” said a third frustrated Provost friend.
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