Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has put on hold a request from NDP Leader Marit Stiles to probe whether Premier Doug Ford broke any rules last year in connection with a prewedding fundraising party or his daughter’s wedding, where he sat with wealthy developer friends who have benefited from his policies.
Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake issued an interim report on Thursday saying he had put the issue of whether to pursue Ms. Stiles’s complaint “in abeyance,” but said he was “not prepared to dismiss it at this point.”
Mr. Wake said the new complaint overlaps with his already active investigation, prompted by a previous request from the NDP Leader, into whether Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark tipped off developers in advance of the government’s decision to open up parts of the protected Greenbelt for housing. He said he would put the second complaint on hold until the previous investigation is complete.
On that investigation, Mr. Wake said he had “required the production of documents from government and non-government sources” and that he and his staff are “reviewing the extensive material gathered so far and have done independent research on the matter.” They are also preparing summonses for “numerous witnesses.”
The Premier’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. Both Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark have previously denied tipping off developers about last November’s move to break previous promises and allow housing on parts of the protected Greenbelt lands that arc around the Greater Toronto Area.
Mr. Ford has said that questions about the prewedding party and the wedding were “ridiculous,” calling them private family events. The province’s Auditor-General has also launched a probe of the Greenbelt decision.
In her complaint last month, the NDP Leader cites a report by Global News about a prewedding “stag and doe” party held last August at the Premier’s home in Etobicoke, on Toronto’s west side. The Globe and Mail obtained a copy of a $150 ticket to a “stag” party held on that date.
Ms. Stiles also pointed to a claim in the Global story, attributed to an unnamed source, that “additional communications” asked for donations of up to $1,000 and that some invitees felt “browbeaten into purchasing tickets.”
Her complaint says developers who attended the subsequent wedding have received special ministerial zoning orders from the government to fast-track development projects, and one owns Greenbelt land that the government recently freed up for development. Mr. Ford has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Wake said Thursday that none of the media reports Ms. Stiles relies on in her second complaint allege that Mr. Ford received any cash or wedding gifts himself, meaning the Members’ Integrity Act that governs conflicts of interest for MPPs does not apply.
Plus, while Ms. Stiles asserts that the Premier must avoid even the “appearance” of a conflict of interest, Mr. Wake says the act does not actually require this for MPPs and is only concerned with a real conflict of interest.
Mr. Wake also notes that allegations in the media reports come from anonymous sources, saying this makes it difficult to “assess the motivation or veracity of such claims.” He also says that in any probe, he “must be able to interview actual witnesses and not cardboard cut-outs.”
His interim report says the fact that some wedding guests were developers or government stakeholders was not “altogether surprising or at all determinative of the issue before me” – namely, whether Mr. Ford or government officials influenced government policy to help friends or donors with land in the Greenbelt, and did so “improperly.”
The Integrity Commissioner has also taken the step in his report of releasing the letter he sent to Mr. Ford in January after the Premier consulted him about the stag-and-doe and wedding issues, a consultation set up after a reporter had asked the Premier’s Office about the events.
Normally such letters are confidential, but he said Mr. Ford’s office had agreed to its release. (Both the Integrity Commissioner and the Premier’s Office had previously released summaries of the letter.) Mr. Wake points out in his report that issuing this kind of opinion is different than a full investigation, as it relies only on what MPPs and their staff tell him. Mr. Ford has repeatedly pointed to this letter as an exoneration.
The letter says that Mr. Ford confirmed that developers, who were long-time family friends, had attended the events. It also says he told Mr. Wake that he was not involved in the planning of the events, had no knowledge of any gifts provided to the couple, and did not receive any money from any of the guests to help pay for either event. He also said no government confidential information was discussed.
“Based on the information provided, it is my opinion that it was permissible to invite personal friends who happen to be government stakeholders to events such as a wedding and stag and doe,” the letter reads.