Ford defends appointment of friend to OPP top job
‘I had zero influence’ on cop getting position, says premier, who says he didn’t recuse himself from cabinet meeting
A defensive Premier Doug Ford insists he had “zero influence” in the Progressive Conservative government’s controversial appointment of his close friend to head the Ontario Provincial Police.
But Ford admitted Tuesday he did not recuse himself from cabinet when Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, 72, was approved as OPP commissioner. “Recuse myself from what? Know something? I go back to the three-person panel (that selected Taverner). I had zero influence and no matter who it was I would have accepted,” the premier said.
“I told them very clearly, I don’t want anything to do with this (hiring) whatsoever,” he said, referring to a panel that included Steve Orsini, head of the Ontario public service, and newly appointed deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso, Taverner’s former boss at Toronto police.
Ford’s comment came after iPolitics revealed earlier Tuesday that the government quietly modified the job posting on Oct. 22.
That helped Taverner meet the criteria as the superintendent was two ranks below the initial threshold to qualify for the position.
The original description on the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police website required all applicants to hold, at minimum, the rank of deputy chief or assistant commissioner, iPolitics found.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, interim Liberal leader John Fraser, and Democracy Watch have asked integrity commissioner David Wake to probe any potential conflict of interest in the appointment.
“The integrity commissioner (should) review the process that has taken place here. People deserve to know exactly what the premier’s role is,” said Horwath.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and it really looks like this process was put together to favour Mr. Taverner and I think that’s inappropriate. Folks in Ontario expect better from their premier,” she said.
Fraser said “it’s important that (Ford) address the appearance of a conflict of interest, because he owes that to the office that he holds and he owes that to the people of Ontario.”
“It’s very reasonable to suspect that there was political interference. I think reasonable people would say ‘something’s fishy,’ ” the interim Liberal chief said.
Democracy Watch also wrote to the integrity commissioner.
“If Premier Ford participated in any step of the process that led to his friend Mr. Taverner being appointed OPP commissioner, then he violated the province’s government ethics law, and that’s why the integrity commissioner needs to investigate,” said the group’s co-founder Duff Conacher.
“Did Premier Ford take part in choosing the executive search firm or directing its decisions in any way directly or indirectly? Did Premier Ford take part in choosing the members of the selection committee or directing its decisions in any way directly or indirectly?” Conacher wrote in his letter to Wake.
In the legislature, Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones, who took the opposition questions after Ford ducked them, said it was “pretty offensive” to question the appointment because Taverner has been a police officer for half a century.
The 51-year police veteran is a unit commander in charge of Etobicoke divisions and a long- time Ford family friend. He succeeds Vince Hawkes, 56, who retired earlier this year.
As a Toronto cop, Taverner made $178,968 last year while the OPP commissioner made $275,907. That’s an annual raise of almost $100,000.
Taverner was also close to the premier’s late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
The superintendent was a fixture at Ford family barbecues and routinely had informal breakfast meetings with both brothers.
In 2016, Taverner accompanied Doug Ford and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on a private plane to Chicago to take in a Blackhawks game, part of a prize package purchased at a charity auction.
Sal Badali of Odgers Berndtson, the head hunting agency that “supported” the OPP commissioner’s hiring selection process, told iPolitics that “eliminating the rank requirement was done to broaden the potential pool of applicants.”
“It turned out that over half the pool of applicants were not at the deputy chief level.”
Ron Taverner, a long-time Toronto officer, is a unit commander in charge of Etobicoke divisions.