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Canada Ontario paid $40,000 for search that led to hiring of Premier Doug Ford’s friend Ron Taverner

The Ontario government paid $40,000 for the search that led to the hiring of Premier Doug Ford’s friend, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the province’s top police officer – an appointment that was later aborted amid allegations of cronyism.

Records obtained by The Globe and Mail through the Freedom of Information Act show that a “flat fee rate” of $40,000 was paid to Odgers Berndtson, the recruiting firm contracted to help find a new commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police in the fall of 2018.

An investigation by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner later found that although the Premier did not improperly intervene in the hiring of Supt. Taverner, the process was “flawed.” The probe heard evidence that Supt. Taverner’s name was not included on an initial list of 30 candidates and that a key member of the two-person hiring panel, then-secretary of the cabinet Steve Orsini, was supplied with Supt. Taverner’s name by Dean French, Mr. Ford’s then-chief of staff. The probe also found text messages – which the Integrity Commissioner described as “disconcerting” – that showed Mr. Orsini knew Mr. French was “rooting for Mr. Taverner’s success.”

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In this file photo from June 18, 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford (centre) attends the 5th Annual Toronto Police Chief Invitational at the Markland Woods Golf Club with Mario Di Tomasso (left) and Ron Taverner (second right).

Jessica Storkey/Flickr

Supt. Taverner withdrew his name from consideration in March. It was the first of several alleged patronage appointments that have dogged the Ford government. In June, Mr. French resigned after it emerged that diplomatic postings in New York and London had been filled by individuals with personal connections to him and his family.

Until the recent release of the FOI records, the government had been unable to detail how much it spent on the recruiting services as part of Supt. Taverner’s failed appointment. At the time of the appointment, a spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat – which is in charge of talent acquisition and soliciting bids from interested search firms – said it could not detail the cost because it was “not the ministry that owns this contract.”

The Globe then filed an FOI request, which was fulfilled six months later. The government supplied a copy of the Request for Services that Odgers Berndtson responded to when it won the contract.

Odgers Berndtson co-operated fully with the investigation by the Integrity Commissioner, said Jacqueline Foley, the firm’s chief marketing officer. “Our firm conducted the OPP Commissioner search, like all of our assignments, with integrity and consistent with our professional practices and standards,” Ms. Foley said.

In response to questions, Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Mr. Ford, said in an e-mail: “Executive search firms are regularly retained to assist in the recruitment of new talent to the Ontario Public Service and Broader Public Sector.”

In an interview, New Democrat MPP Taras Natyshak, said that it appears the recruiting firm was used to “validate” a preordained choice from the Premier’s Office.

“That’s no respect to taxpayers dollars and an affront to … folks in the broader public service who are appointed by due process," Mr. Natyshak said. "It’s taxpayers who have to pay the bill, and in this case it’s a $40,000 bill to Odgers to validate Doug’s chosen candidate.”

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As part of the probe into Supt. Taverner’s hiring, the Integrity Commissioner interviewed the former deputy minister of community safety, Matt Torigian, who left the government in October, 2018 shortly before the hiring process began.

Mr. Torigian told investigators he had a discussion with a recruiter from Odgers, Sal Badali, just days before he retired from the public service. He said he encouraged Mr. Badali to reach out to the chiefs and deputy chiefs of the 12 largest police forces in the province, and, according to Mr. Torigian, Mr. Badali pressed him for other names.

Mr. Torigian said he replied: "Well, there’s one other name obviously out there that you’re not going to get from me, because they’re not qualified, but I’m sure you’ve heard there’s interest in having this person apply, too.”

Mr. Torigian said Mr. Badali replied with a “half-chuckle” and said: “We all know Ron is going to get an interview, and we’ll see where it goes.”

In his interview with the Integrity Commissioner, Mr. Badali said he did not recall the discussion.

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