Ontario’s Community Safety Minister insists Premier Doug Ford had no hand in picking the province’s top cop as the Opposition on Monday pressed the government to reveal details about why a “friend” of the Premier was chosen.
Last week, Toronto Police Service Superintendent Ron Taverner was selected by the government to be the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. It was a decision made through "an independent process and I think he’s going to do an excellent job,” Sylvia Jones told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday.
She said Supt. Taverner was picked on merit from a pool of 27 candidates, who also applied for the job. Asked whether Mr. Ford had requested the hire, Ms. Jones simply said that he had not. "It was an independent hiring process, I’m not sure how many more times I can tell you, it was an independent hiring process.”
The OPP is Canada’s second-largest police force, a sprawling organization where more than 8,000 employees do everything from patrolling rural communities to putting together major organized-crime and political investigations.
Supt. Taverner has spent his career at the Toronto Police Service, which he first joined in 1967. For the past 15 years, he has been a mid-level commanding officer, overseeing the urban precincts in the West Toronto neighbourhoods comprising the former city of Etobicoke.
Because this area is also the Ford family’s political power base, critics are asking whether Supt. Taverner got the job because of personal connections.
“What we’re worried about, though, is this is a very serious position, it brings a great deal of responsibility, and it literally covers the entire province,” Andrea Horwath, the Leader of the Opposition NDP, said outside the legislature on Monday. "... Why has this friend of the Premier’s gone to the top of the list and what is the process that brought him here?”
Ms. Horwath added that a former OPP commissioner, Chris Lewis, also publicly questioned the appointment last week. Mr. Lewis told CP24 that the job was likely too big a jump for Supt. Taverner to make – and “a real kick to the OPP and the senior officers in that organization.”
In announcing the appointment last week, the government said that Supt. Taverner was hired on the “unanimous recommendation of a selection committee” made up of civil servants and an executive search firm.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Premier also said “no political staff or elected officials, including the Premier or the Premier’s Office, were involved in the selection process.”
The NDP is pressing for more specifics, but has gotten nowhere. “If you think about the anonymity of the selection committee, I think that’s a concern. That’s why we are asking the government and asking the Premier to come clean,” Ms. Horwath said. “Let’s figure out why the process left us with a candidate that leaves so many people scratching their heads,” she added.
Supt. Taverner is the second Toronto Police Service officer to be elevated by the Ontario government since the Progressive Conservatives took office this summer.
Mario di Tommaso, a former staff superintendent, was made a deputy minister of community safety in October. At the time, Supt. Taverner publicly applauded the move as an inspired choice.
It is not clear if Mr. di Tommaso, who now oversees the bureaucracy that helps run the OPP, was part of the selection committee for the commissioner. Staffers in the community safety minister’s office did not respond to an e-mail from The Globe asking for comment.
The minister said she is not concerned about the optics of Supt. Taverner being too close to the Premier.
“How about the optics of 50 years of experience?,” Ms. Jones said, adding that “policing is policing … it doesn’t matter whether you’re in rural Ontario or downtown Toronto.”
Ms. Jones said that it is hardly surprising that Mr. Ford, a former city councillor, and Supt. Taverner would know each other. “You cannot be an active part of Toronto and the Etobicoke area and not know who Ron Taverner is,” she said.
According to Ontario’s salary-disclosure “sunshine list”, Supt. Taverner could be in line for a raise. In 2017, he made about $180,000. The OPP commissioner of the day made $276,000.