Doug Ford campaigned on the slogan “For the People.” But with controversy growing over his OPP commissioner appointment of Ron Taverner, a Toronto police superintendent and the Ontario premier’s longtime personal friend, it’s looking a bit more like he meant “For the Fords’ People.”
Taverner’s tale began on November 29, when the province announced Ford’s cabinet had picked the 72-year-old police commander from Etobicoke—the west-end Toronto capital of Ford Nation—to head the country’s second biggest police force after the RCMP. The nearly 9,000-person Ontario Provincial Police has 150 detachments as well as anti-organized crime and racketeering units, the latter of which, by the by, also investigates political shadiness.
Taverner, who joined the Toronto Police service way back in 1967, is currently Unit Commander of 12, 23, and 31 Divisions. The Toronto Star reported that “Taverner forged a relationship with Ford's late brother, Rob Ford, while Rob was a city councillor,” adding “he has attended Ford family barbecues and informal breakfast meetings with the brothers.” In a Globe and Mail interview, ex-Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee confirmed “Ron [Taverner] has been very close to the Ford family. He and the Premier have had a close relationship.”
Mukherjee also pointed out OPP political probes often lead to criminal charges, including former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff serving four months in jail for wiping hard drives in the gas-plant scandal. In 2015, former premier Kathleen Wynne’s own deputy chief of staff Pat Sorbara was under an OPP bribery investigation related to a Sudbury byelection. She was blasted at the time by Progressive Conservative House Leader Steve Clark for even commenting on the case which, he said, could be seen as trying to influence the OPP. (Sorbara was acquitted last year.) And just two weeks ago, the OPP charged Ottawa City Councilor Tim Tierney with violating the Municipal Elections Act during the recent campaign.
In other words, the political independence of the OPP commissioner is a pretty big deal. So Premier Ford allegedly handpicking a pal to run a police force that could potentially investigate his administration already looks too much like Donald Trump naming political ally Matthew Whitaker acting Attorney General. But these top law-enforcement appointments have something else in common, too. Whitaker was selected over people higher in the chain of command, and Taverner jumped the queue, too.
The initial announcement was followed by days of criticism over the appropriateness of the Ford-Taverner relationship and the appropriateness of selecting a suburban commander over more senior OPP officers. Opposition politicians pounced, sure, but so did Chris Lewis, OPP commissioner from 2010-2014. "The fix was in from day one. The decision was the premier's. There's old relationships there, we all know it, and I think it is a travesty this occurred,” he told CP24. “I think it's a real kick to the OPP, and the senior officers in that organization that know this province and know their organization, and they pick somebody from the outside with very limited experience.”
Then iPolitics broke a big scoop. It turned out that despite the government boasting Taverner was chosen “based on a unanimous recommendation of a selection committee,” when the job was first posted Taverner wasn’t even eligible because he was two ranks below the then-minimum required rank of Deputy Chief. But as reporter Marieke Walsh uncovered, “the job requirements were changed—paving the way for the Ford family friend to apply.”
But wait, there’s even more! After some half-hearted attempts at stonewalling earlier in the week, Premier Ford revealed that the “independent panel” included Taverner’s former boss, Deputy Minister of Community Safety Mario Di Tommaso, and also admitted that he didn’t recuse himself from the hiring decision of his longtime friend. “Recuse myself for what?” Ford blustered to reporters. “I have final sign-off on everything in this province. Every appointment in this province, I sign off.”
Opposition leaders, smelling blood in the water, have called for an Integrity Commission investigation over the hiring. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “You don’t change a job description so that your friend can get the job.” Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said, “I think reasonable people would say, ‘Something’s fishy’ and Green leader Mike Schreiner said, “The premier essentially has admitted that he was engaged in a conflict of interest when he signed off on the cabinet decision.” The non-partisan Democracy Watch is also calling for the official watchdog to look into this.
The integrity of law enforcement independence is especially important in light of the Toronto Star report that Ford’s chief of staff Dean French tried to pressure cops to raid cannabis dispensaries on legalization day to show “people in handcuffs.”
The appointment also shows a pattern of patronage by a premier who campaigned on accusing the previous Liberal government of same. In the summer, Ford controversially named his Dr. Rueben Devlin to a $350,000 health care advisory position. The former PC president used to head up Humber River hospital where Rob Ford went for cancer treatment in 2014 and, Global reports, "Devlin personally helped the family during that time."
Then in September, another longtime family friend got called up to the majors. Gavin Tighe was Doug Ford’s lawyer when he was under investigation by the City Integrity Commissioner as a Toronto city councillor in 2014. (Ford was found guilty of a conflict-of-interest by the commissioner.) Tighe also repped the premier’s late brother Rob Ford when the then-mayor was sued for defamation and when he was sued for alleged involvement in a jailhouse beating of their former brother-in-law. (Yes, really.)
Tighe was named chair of the Public Accountants Council for the Province of Ontario, a position that Essex NDP MPP Taras Natyshak said in a statement is a $667,000 government contract—or almost two-and-half times the salary of the OPP commissioner.
It sure pays to be Ford’s people.
Follow Joshua Ostoff on Twitter.
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