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A spokeswoman for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, seen here on Nov. 4, 2019, said last Friday that Mr. Ford would provide dinner packages for the charity auction. On Wednesday, however, she said Mr. Ford 'plans to donate his time if he’s asked' to by event organizers.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Organizers of a Toronto Police charity fundraiser have not yet asked Premier Doug Ford to once again donate private dinners to be auctioned off at the event on Thursday, amid criticism that the practice amounts to trading cash for access.

Ivana Yelich, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Premier, said last Friday that Mr. Ford would provide dinner packages for the charity auction. On Wednesday, however, she said Mr. Ford “plans to donate his time if he’s asked” to by event organizers.

The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that Mr. Ford had several dinners with business executives who paid $20,000 each at the same fundraiser last year for high-level access to him.

Critics say allowing deep-pocketed individuals and companies to pay for exclusive face time with the Premier is unethical, even when the money goes to charity.

“It is wrong, no matter which way you slice it,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said. “Regardless of where the money’s going, the bottom line is it is still money that is being paid to give access to the Premier.”

Editorial: Doug Ford says he can’t be bought. So why is he selling his time to the highest bidder?

Two of the companies that secured access to Mr. Ford at last year’s Toronto Police Chief’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 had dinner with the Premier. In addition, after dining with Mr. Ford, real estate developer Sam Mizrahi asked for a meeting to discuss Ontario Place, the mothballed theme park the government is planning to overhaul.

The “intimate private dinner” packages with the Premier that were auctioned off were not subject to political fundraising rules because the funds went to charity. Six dinners were sold for $20,000 or $21,000 each, but only five dinners took place because one was cancelled.

Allison Sparkes, a Toronto Police spokeswoman, said organizers have not yet asked Mr. Ford to donate dinner packages for the event, which is being held Thursday evening in support of Victim Services Toronto.

“There’s nothing confirmed or arranged at this point,” she said.

Ms. Sparkes said organizers would decide whether to ask the Premier to donate private dinner opportunities during the gala and suggested that is what happened at last year’s event.

However, documents obtained by The Globe through the province’s Freedom of Information law relating to last year’s fundraiser show that the private dinners with Mr. Ford were arranged beforehand. An “event profile” circulated by e-mail among staff in the Premier’s Office several hours in advance of the event mentions the dinner, with a detailed description of the package, which was labelled “Live auction #15,” including a written description and a photo of Mr. Ford.

Mr. Ford will deliver remarks at the event, Ms. Yelich said.

Last year’s auction also included two fishing trips and a lunch with Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Border Security and a former Toronto Police chief, and tickets to attend sports games with current Chief Mark Saunders.

Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blair, said he “has not been asked to donate any items this year, and thus will not be doing so." She said Mr. Blair plans to attend the event, which he founded in 2008.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said it is unethical for elected officials to provide opportunities for face time to the highest bidders in an auction. He also took issue with Chief Saunders providing such access, saying it creates a potential conflict of interest.

Ms. Sparkes said the Chief will again provide auction items and has the support of the Toronto Police Services Board. “They are social events in public [forums] and attended by many people.”

With a report from Jeff Gray

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