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Ontario Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones speaks to members of the media about the withdrawal of Ron Taverner's bid for leadership of the OPP, at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 7, 2019.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

A day after Superintendent Ron Taverner stepped aside, Ontario has renewed its search for a new OPP commissioner as Premier Doug Ford pointed to what he called “systemic problems" facing the force.

Supt. Taverner, a long-time member of the Toronto Police Service, was appointed in November in a decision that sparked controversy over allegations that he was chosen because he was a friend of the Premier. He announced Wednesday that he would not be filling the position.

Since last fall, the police service of 6,000 officers − Canada’s second-largest − has been without a permanent boss. Supt. Taverner delayed taking over the position while an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner unfolded.

In the wake of Supt. Taverner’s surprise withdrawal, the Premier says that what the public most needs now is a police commander who can solve chronic issues.

“Since the beginning of this process, our objective has been new leadership up at the OPP to fix the systemic problems that we’re hearing non-stop from the front-line OPP officers,” Mr. Ford said. “As far as the rank-and-file officers, they are concerned, and we must do better for them, and we will do better for them."

The Premier did not detail what specific problems he was talking about, but the Ontario Provincial Police is among Canadian police forces grappling with issues related to officer suicides, gender pay gaps and workplace harassment.

Brad Blair, an OPP commander who was fired earlier this week, said he felt vindicated that Supt. Taverner will not be taking the job. Mr. Blair had accused the government of interfering in the hiring process.

A lawyer speaking for Mr. Blair said the focus now must be on the process by which the next police chief is picked.

"Looking forward, the hiring process for the next OPP Commissioner must be conducted appropriately and not mired by the political interference and cronyism that sadly characterized the November, 2018, hiring process,” Julian Falconer said.

After being a runner-up for the OPP job, Mr. Blair launched a multipronged legal battle to force a review of the hiring process. He revealed in court filings details about the Premier’s early interactions with his police-security teams.

The disclosures included OPP e-mails about the Premier angrily complaining over having a rotating cast of officers he didn’t trust, and Mr. Ford relaying a cost estimate to the OPP for a $50,000 van retrofit.

Mr. Blair was fired from his 32-year job at the OPP on Monday. A Community Safety deputy minister travelled to OPP headquarters in Orillia to present him with a termination letter, which stated that Mr. Blair had violated the confidentiality agreements that public servants swear to.

But Mr. Falconer countered that this was a wrongful dismissal.

“Mr. Blair’s efforts to protect the OPP from political interference have not come without significant personal costs,” he wrote in his statement. It added that Mr. Blair "will seek full accountability and compensation for the actions leading to his termination.”

Ontario Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said Thursday that she could not say how or when a new police chief will be chosen. “What I can tell you is that the OPP needs a commissioner and we will make sure that that process happens,” she said.

On Thursday, Mr. Ford attended Question Period in the legislature after missing it for four days in a row as the OPP controversy intensified this week.

Pressed by the NDP to agree to launch a public inquiry into his government’s decision to hire Supt. Taverner, Mr. Ford responded by calling the opposition a “police-hating party.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath replied that, “apparently, the Premier wasn’t paying attention, Mr. Speaker. It was him we were attacking, not Ron Taverner or anybody else.”

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