Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford says the timing of a lawsuit from his late brother’s widow is suspect and that he is proud of his family’s label-making business, defending his credibility amid allegations that he is a negligent business manager.
At a news conference Tuesday, only two days before Ontarians head to the polls, Mr. Ford said the lawsuit filed in Superior Court by Renata Ford, whose husband was former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, is a desperate money grab.
“Those claims are false and without merit, and I can tell you this is going to be proven in court. We’ve had an incredible company for 55 years, and I’m proud of it,” Mr. Ford said.
The lawsuit is seeking $16.25-million in damages. None of the allegations has been proved in court.
Despite Mr. Ford’s rebuttal, financial records corroborate at least some of the suit’s claims.
Ms. Ford alleges that Mr. Ford and his other brother, Randy, mismanaged the family company, Deco Labels & Tags Ltd. She alleges money was taken from the estate of Doug Ford Sr., who co-founded the company in 1962, to offset some of the financial problems they created – and that those actions ultimately left her and her children with very little as the beneficiaries of her late husband’s estate.
According to filings, in 2013, the estate of Doug Ford Sr. lent $5-million to Doug Ford Holdings, a company the lawsuit states is part of the Deco group. The loan came in the form of a mortgage secured by three properties.
Filings also show that in 2017 the same estate lent an undisclosed amount to Doug Ford Holdings.
Ms. Ford also alleges that Deco’s Toronto division has been in the red for at least six of the past eight fiscal years, for a cumulative loss of $6.1-million. Financial information for fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015 was not in the suit.
Two former Deco executives, who spoke with The Globe and Mail and are familiar with the company’s finances from 2010 to 2012, said the suit’s descriptions of the company’s woes and the annual losses cited in Ms. Ford’s claim were consistent with their experiences at the firm.
The allegations against Mr. Ford come in the final days of a heated election campaign, and rival political leaders seized on the lawsuit Tuesday. Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said Mr. Ford should release Deco’s financial statements, after reporters asked the Tory leader to make the documents public earlier in the day.
“If this is the credential that he is running on, that he is a business man and he knows how to run a business and somehow that qualifies him to be the premier of Ontario, if that’s under question and there isn’t anything else that he says or we can see that qualifies him, he better be clear about the business,” Ms. Wynne said during a campaign stop in Toronto.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s campaign also weighed in with a statement: “If he can’t run his own business properly, how can he be trusted to run the province?”
Through her lawyers, Ms. Ford declined to comment Tuesday.
Mr. Ford’s campaign spokesperson, Melissa Lantsman, provided the following statement when asked about the financial records that show loans made from Doug Ford Sr.’s estate: “The allegations in these documents are absolutely false and will be proven in court. It is no coincidence that these false claims are being made on the eve of an election campaign.”
Even before Mr. Ford made his first run for public office, in 2010, Deco had a turbulent period, The Globe has reported. Previous stories cited internal company records, obtained by a source and independently verified by another, showing that between 2009 and 2010, during a global recession, Deco’s total losses were roughly $1.1-million.
The 2009 difficulties were acknowledged by Randy, the eldest Ford brother, in an affidavit that he swore as part of a child custody court case: “The income of the corporation declined substantially for the year ended February 28, 2009 and accordingly my bonus declined, due to the fact that one of the corporation’s best customers, namely Avery, decided to take their work to Mexico.”
One of the former Deco officials who spoke to The Globe also said the company’s profitability suffered when Doug Ford turned his attention to municipal politics in 2010, leaving Randy in charge as the top executive. Although he had much expertise in the operations side, Randy’s management acumen was lacking – and that showed on Deco’s balance sheet.
Randy did not return a request for comment.
Despite this history, Mr. Ford batted away any scrutiny of his company Tuesday, telling reporters that Ms. Ford’s lawsuit was filed only after private negotiations failed to resolve the matter. He said her lawyers told him they would release the documents publicly unless he paid her what she wanted, comparing the experience to having a gun pointed at his head.
With files from Stephanie Chambers and Molly Hayes