Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government says it has tightened its appointment process, months after it was first dogged by controversies over a series of six-figure jobs handed to candidates with personal links to Premier Doug Ford or his former chief of staff, Dean French.
But the government refused to release the results of the review it says Treasury Board officials conducted of all pending appointments over the summer. And it would not say how many appointments in the pipeline it had cancelled over concerns about a lack of qualifications or potential conflicts of interest.
Government House Leader Paul Calandra mentioned the reforms in the Legislature on Wednesday, in response to NDP demands that the government allow the justice committee to examine the botched process in which Toronto Police Service superintendent Ron Taverner – a friend of Mr. Ford’s – was initially named commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
“We have made some important changes,” Mr. Calandra told Question Period, saying the government was “enhancing conflict-of-interest assessments” and would refer some future appointments to the province’s Integrity Commissioner.
In response to questions from The Globe and Mail, Hayden Kenez, a spokesman for Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, said in an e-mailed statement that the government was “increasing transparency” and bringing in “the strongest safeguards against conflict of interest” in new procedures that take effect Friday.
The changes come after what Mr. Kenez called a “comprehensive review.” He said candidates will have to fill out new “personal disclosure and conflict-of-interest” forms that seek “additional information about potential areas of conflict and disclosure of personal and professional relationships.”
The appointment of special government advisers, he said, will also now be disclosed along with other names to boards and agencies on the public appointments website.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath dismissed the government’s changes, saying the Progressive Conservatives have continued to frustrate her party’s requests for more candidates to appear before a legislative committee for questioning. She also leaped on word that the government was not releasing the results of the very review it says has prompted it to be more transparent.
“What that basically says is, just trust us,” Ms. Horwath told reporters. “Nobody trusts them any more. They’ve shown very clearly that it’s all about cronyism, it’s all about appointing their friends to plum positions.”
Over the summer, while the Ford government put the Legislature on a 144-day hiatus, its longest break in almost a quarter century, the NDP says more than 200 government posts were filled. But with Queen’s Park and its committees dormant, none appeared before a standing committee for questioning.
Almost from the beginning, Mr. Ford’s government has faced criticism for appointing failed PC candidates or others with party links to government posts.
In July, Mr. Ford vowed to tighten the vetting of government appointments. That move came in the wake of the resignation of his chief of staff, Mr. French, who quit after it was revealed that two people with personal ties to him were given lucrative foreign appointments. A handful of other appointees with links to Mr. French quit or were fired.
Michelle Renaud, a spokeswoman for Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake, said the commissioner would provide conflict-of-interest advice on potential public appointments when requested, and that this had long already been standard practice. Ms. Renaud declined to answer whether her office was investigating Mr. French’s conduct.
Jamie Wallace, Mr. French’s replacement, had several meetings about the public appointments process during the summer, according to his calendar, which The Globe obtained under the province’s freedom of information law.
Mr. Wallace had two meetings about public appointments on July 17, including an “introductory meeting” Mr. Wake was invited to attend that covered multiple topics, including his role to provide conflict-of-interest advice on appointments, Ms. Renaud said.
With a report from Jill Mahoney
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