Ontario Premier Doug Ford once again provided private dinner packages at a charity auction on Thursday, saying he is doing nothing wrong by trying to raise money for a good cause.
At the police chief’s gala in Toronto, Mr. Ford defended his decision to auction off private face time with him at last year’s event to raise money to support Victim Services Toronto, which helps crime victims. He criticized the media for reporting on it and asked the crowd to decide whether he should do it again.
The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that Mr. Ford had several private dinners with business executives who paid $20,000 each at the same event’s charity auction last year for face time with him.
Critics say allowing wealthy individuals and companies to pay for exclusive face time with the Premier is unethical and amounts to trading cash for access. The dinners are not subject to political financing rules because the funds went to charity.
“There was one media outlet that wanted to call us out for raising money for victims of crime and victims services, like we did something wrong,” Mr. Ford said Thursday night.
“I’m going to leave it up to each and every one of you: If you want us to do the auction and raise a lot of money for victims of crime, let me hear you.”
The Premier then added Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders to the “intimate event,” and two dinners were auctioned off for $15,000 each, for a total of $30,000. It was not immediately known who bought the dinners.
A third dinner with Mr. Ford and Chief Saunders, also for $15,000, was also auctioned off later in the evening.
Before the gala began, Chief Saunders told reporters he’s proud that Mr. Ford attends the event, saying it is a first for a Premier.
The chief said he also sponsors some of his own time and doesn’t see a problem with it.
“What I think is important is the fact that that sponsorship piece and where the money goes is incredibly critical,” he said.
Critics, including Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and the head of Democracy Watch, say it is unethical for the Premier to give the wealthy an opportunity to buy access to him.
Two of the companies that secured access to the Premier at last year’s fundraiser – technology firm OnX Enterprise Solutions and retirement-home provider All Seniors Care Living Centres – were also lobbying to do business with the province when executives dined with Mr. Ford. In addition, after his dinner with the Premier, real estate developer Sam Mizrahi asked for a meeting about Ontario Place, the theme park the province plans to revitalize.
Six “intimate private dinner” packages with the Premier were sold at last year’s fundraiser for $20,000 or $21,000 each, but only five took place because one was cancelled. The dinners raised $101,000 out of the event’s total of $653,420 for Victim Services Toronto.
Last year’s live auction also included two fishing trips and a lunch with Bill Blair, federal Minister of Border Security, and tickets to sports games with Chief Saunders.
Bonnie Levine, executive director of Victim Services Toronto, told The Globe on Thursday the event is key to the organization’s fundraising efforts.
“We are incredibly grateful to everyone who supports this event.”
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