Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner is investigating the provincial government’s decision to name a friend of the Premier to head the Ontario Provincial Police. That’s good as far as it goes. There is much that needs investigating about this dubious appointment. But the matter should not end there. Whatever the commissioner finds, it is simply wrong to have a personal friend of the Premier running the police force.
The potential for a conflict of interest is obvious. What if the actions of the government come under investigation by the police, as they did in the gas-plants scandal that haunted the prior Liberal government? How can the public have confidence that a force headed by the Premier’s chum will act impartially? All democratic countries rightly place a wall between those who make the laws and those who enforce them. Without it, there is always a danger that government leaders will use the police to go after their opponents. Any suspicion that the police force might come under political influence puts the integrity of the justice system at risk.
Premier Doug Ford should have seen that from the start. Instead, he approved the appointment of longtime Ford-family friend Ron Taverner to lead the OPP. The outcry was immediate. Mr. Ford sprang to the defence of his pal. He argued that Supt. Taverner was an excellent choice. He swore that he had absolutely nothing to do with giving the 72-year-old cop this career-topping plum. He took potshots at those who dared to oppose the choice. He even accused reporters who asked valid questions about the issue of becoming his new opposition.
Now, the Taverner decision faces scrutiny from at least two sources. Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake is looking into it after a complaint from an NDP MPP. A deputy commissioner of the OPP, Brad Blair, is going to court to make the provincial Ombudsman probe the appointment, too. Ombudsman Paul Dubé has declined to take the case, saying he doesn’t have the authority to examine cabinet decisions. The lawyer for deputy commissioner Blair is due in Ontario Divisional Court on Monday to ask the court to consider the matter urgently.
Whether there is one investigation or two, it’s important to have someone look into how this blinkered decision came about. There are all sorts unanswered questions. Is it really true that Mr. Ford had “zero influence” over the decision to choose his friend? Zero? Did Supt. Taverner’s application rise to the top of the pile solely on his own merit? How did it happen that the government lowered the rank required to apply for the job? Supt. Taverner, who never rose to the highest levels, only qualified because it did.
Did no one tell the Premier that it might be a problem to have his friend heading the OPP? Not Caroline Mulroney, the Attorney-General? Not Steve Orsini, who was head of the public service and sat on the hiring panel? For that matter, what about deputy commissioner Blair’s contention that Mr. Ford’s chief of staff asked the OPP to modify a camper van for the Premier’s use and keep it “off the books.” (Mr. Ford calls that “baseless.”)
It would be enlightening to know. If it turns out that Mr. Ford had any sway whatsoever over the choice of Supt. Taverner, he will be in a tight spot, considering how insistent his denials have been. But even if he really did have no influence at all, and a 72-year-old cop from suburban Toronto landed the job because of his outstanding qualifications alone, the appointment should not stand. Regardless of the process, the result was unacceptable. It put a cloud over the provincial police that will dissipate only if Supt. Taverner’s name is withdrawn for good.
A premier cannot have a friend as the province’s top cop. That is all there is to it. If Mr. Ford did not see it from the beginning – if he did not see it even after the decision blew up in his face – he should see it now.