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

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT BEN­ZIE AND KRISTIN RUSHOWY

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.”

BERNARD WEIL TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Ron Tav­erner, a long-time Toronto of­fi­cer, is a unit com­man­der in charge of Eto­bi­coke di­vi­sions.

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