Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he didn’t need to recuse himself from a cabinet meeting that appointed a Ford family friend to lead the province’s police force because the hiring was recommended by an independent panel.
His defence came amid new revelations about changes to the job posting that allowed Ron Taverner to apply for the position and confirmation that his former boss was part of the three-person hiring committee.
Under questioning from reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Ford defended the appointment of Superintendent Taverner, a veteran Toronto police commander from the Ford family’s power base of Etobicoke in Toronto’s west end, as the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
While Mr. Ford said he had “absolutely” no involvement in choosing Supt. Taverner, 72, for the OPP position, he said the long-time police officer is the right person for the job.
“This is a man that has given 50 years of his life to policing and the accolades across the province that I’ve seen are just overwhelming,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Ford said Supt. Taverner was chosen by a three-member independent panel comprised of executive search firm Ogders Berndtson; cabinet secretary Steve Orsini; and Mario Di Tommaso, deputy minister of community safety.
Mr. Di Tommaso is a former staff superintendent at the Toronto Police Service – and Supt. Taverner’s former boss. At the time of Mr. Di Tommaso’s appointment by the Ford government in October, Supt. Taverner publicly applauded the move as an inspired choice.
When asked if Mr. Di Tommaso’s inclusion on the panel could be considered a conflict, Mr. Ford said: “Absolutely not. You have to look at his qualifications. If Ron Taverner wasn’t qualified, he wouldn’t be there. But he has the utmost respect of police officers not only just across Ontario, but across the country."
Mr. Ford said he didn’t recuse himself from the process because the panel made its unanimous decision to choose Supt. Taverner. The Premier said he has the final sign off “on everything in this province.”
“I had zero influence and no matter who it was, I would have accepted,” Mr. Ford said. “That was the best choice this committee could have ever made.”
Mr. Ford added that he’s friends with “thousands of people” and said there would be a separation between his office and the OPP. “I can’t influence and tell the police what to do,” he said.
Neither Supt. Taverner nor Mr. Di Tommaso responded to requests for comment on Tuesday. A spokesman for the cabinet office said the recruitment of the OPP commissioner was made through an open competition and the decision to recommend Mr. Taverner was unanimous.
“There was no political involvement in the selection process,” cabinet spokesman Craig Sumi said.
The Premier has been under fire from the opposition for his government’s decision last week to appoint Supt. Taverner, a mid-level commanding officer, to the country’s second-largest police force. On Tuesday, iPolitics revealed that the qualifications for the OPP job were changed on Oct. 24, two days after it was initially posted, removing requirements that applicants hold the rank of deputy chief or assistant commissioner, which would have excluded Supt. Taverner from applying.
Mr. Ford said it was the search firm, not him, that asked for the qualifications to be broadened. A spokeswoman for Odgers Berndtson declined to comment due to confidentiality.
Both the NDP and Liberals said they are asking the province’s integrity commissioner to investigate the appointment. A spokeswoman for the commissioner’s office said it received an unspecified request on Tuesday to conduct an investigation, but Commissioner David Wake cannot investigate a complaint until a formal process is followed.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it does not appear that Supt. Taverner was appointed to the position solely on merit.
“I was surprised to hear that the Premier doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his interfering in the appointment of [Mr. Taverner],” she said. “It really looks like the process was put together to favour Mr. Taverner, and I think that’s inappropriate."
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said “it’s very reasonable” to suspect there was political interference in the appointment.
“Reasonable people would say, ‘Something’s fishy,’ ” he said.