The van-retrofitting entrepreneur who priced out a $50,000 estimate for Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the project hasn’t moved ahead.
Angelo Durso, owner of Mississauga company A1 Mobility, said he has had no further communication from Mr. Ford’s office since he sent them a quote after meeting with the Premier and his staff in November about retrofitting a travel van.
“I assumed they put it on the back-burner," he said, adding “basically all we did is provide a quote."
He said critics’ characterization of the custom vehicle as a luxury camper van are inaccurate. “It’s a true-blue mobile office, it’s an office on wheels.”
Mr. Ford faced more questions in the legislature on Wednesday about whether his office tried to sidestep procurement rules when a staffer used his private e-mail to forward the van proposal to Ontario Provincial Police. Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair has alleged in court documents that Mr. Ford’s office wanted to keep the cost of the van retrofit "off the books.”
The Premier acknowledged that he worked with police to explore the van option, but said he wanted to save taxpayers money by spending less on airfare and overhauling a used police vehicle.
“I requested a used van that is one-third the cost of the regular [Chevrolet] Suburban,” Mr. Ford told the legislature, adding he doesn’t like to fly. “I prefer to drive around and talk to the people about things that matter.”
The NDP’s Taras Natyshak said the proposed expense was extravagant and accused the Premier of asking provincial police to “secretly spend over $100,000 on a souped-up man cave on wheels.”
Details of the custom vehicle plan emerged as part of an Ontario court bid Deputy Commissioner Blair launched to force the provincial Ombudsman to review the government’s decision to appoint Mr. Ford’s friend, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the new police commissioner. He alleges he has seen a pattern of political interference in police work by Mr. Ford and his chief of staff, Dean French.
Mr. French “requested that we at the OPP purchase a large camper-type vehicle and have it modified,” Deputy Commissioner Blair said in a December letter to the Ombudsman of Ontario. He alleged that Mr. French “asked that costs associated with the vehicle be kept off the books.” His case is before the courts.
The Premier’s office denies its staff broke procurement rules.
The van estimate from A1 Mobility was roughly $50,000, not including the cost of the van. It included internet WiFi, a mini-fridge, swivelling leather seats, a 32-inch TV with a Blu-ray player and a power-reclining sofa bench.
Mr. Durso said the design is fairly standard for the mobile-office concepts he sells. He added that van-based mobile offices are a North America-wide trend for real estate agents and people who run construction companies.
“There are people that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars” on such retrofits, Mr. Durso said.
He said the aim is always productivity and not entertainment. “Each captain’s chair has a media outlet so you can hook up to the internet.” The Blu-ray player would be used to project computer presentations: “It wasn’t like [the Premier] was going to watch movies on the TV.”
Mr. Durso said Mr Ford’s visit to his office on Nov. 5 came out of the blue. He said he didn’t recall who from the Premier’s office made the initial outreach. He relayed a modified version of his company’s standard template two weeks later. Mr. Durso said he expected several prospective companies would have been invited to bid if the idea went anywhere.
The price quote is not extravagant when one considers the work, Mr. Durso said. “The reason why there’s a $50,000 price tag on the retrofit is that there’s nothing inside of it. [The van] comes to us an empty shell. We have to put the carpet in, the chairs, the seat belts in – everything has to be done from scratch.”
With files from Jeff Gray