Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he has no involvement in the day-to-day operations of his family’s business, after he was still listed as president on official U.S. documents as recently as this week.
Mr. Ford’s name was removed as president and secretary of Deco Labels & Tags Ltd. in an amended corporate filing in Illinois on Tuesday, after The Globe and Mail inquired about his position in the company. The Toronto-based business, which manufactures labels and packaging for North American companies, also has a division in Chicago.
The Ontario government’s Members’ Integrity Act prohibits members of cabinet, including the Premier, from having outside employment and holding an office or directorship at a company.
Asked by the NDP during Question Period on Thursday why he was still listed as president in the U.S. documents, Mr. Ford said the company is in a blind trust that was approved by the province’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake.
“I have nothing to do with the company in day-to-day operations,” Mr. Ford told the legislature. “I’m too busy turning this province around from the mess [the previous Ontario government] left.”
The Premier’s Office said the Chicago filing was an “error made by an accountant" and produced a resignation letter addressed to Deco Labels & Tags signed by Mr. Ford on Aug. 28, 2018.
Mr. Ford’s spouse, Karla Ford, is now listed as president, secretary and director, and the couple’s four daughters are also listed as directors, according to a copy of the amended Chicago filing provided by the Premier’s Office. They all share Mr. Ford’s address in Etobicoke, in the west end of Toronto, the documents say. Although the amended filing calls the company Deco Labels & Tags Ltd., the name was changed to Deco Flexible Packaging Ltd. on Aug. 9, 2019.
According to the Premier’s Office, Mr. Ford’s management trust is being managed by Royal Trust. “The Commissioner must approve the provisions of the trust and the selection of a trustee who is to be at arm’s length from the MPP. No communication is permitted between the MPP and the trustee,” Mr. Wake’s spokeswoman Michelle Renaud said Thursday, quoting from a previous annual report.
The Members’ Integrity Act applies to members of cabinet but does not address the activities of their spouses or family members, Ms. Renaud said.
Greg Levine, a lawyer and government ethics expert, said allowing cabinet members’ spouses or children to hold offices and directorships at companies runs a risk of conflicts of interest for the elected officials.
“To me, it’s a problem as a general notion of ethics law,” he said. “How do you avoid involvement if your family’s involved?”
By contrast, under Ontario’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the monetary interests of municipal councillors’ spouses and children are deemed to be the same as the elected officials’.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said “it’s very worrisome” that Mr. Ford was still listed as president on the U.S. filing. She said her party will take a look at the province’s ethics rules to see if there needs to be more stringent regulations for cabinet members.
“Regardless of what the letter of the law says, this whole situation is a bit stinky. It’s a bit odorous," she said Thursday.
“People need to be confident that nothing that the Premier does in any way is helpful to, or positively impactful of, his business ownings and his business dealings.”
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said he has confidence in Mr. Wake to evaluate the situation.
“I’ll take the Premier at his word," Mr. Fraser said.
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