Ron Taverner fell on his sword. The Toronto cop said this week he would no longer seek to lead the Ontario Provincial Police. Good. The well-justified uproar over his appointment by the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford, who happens to be his friend, made it impossible for him to carry on.
It is astonishing that he was chosen in the first place, considering the obvious problems that came with putting a pal of the premier in charge of a force that might one day find itself investigating the Premier, his ministers or his party. It is even more astonishing that Mr. Ford tried to brazen it out for so long, insisting that there was nothing at all wrong with putting his friend in charge and swearing up and down that he had nothing to do with selecting him. Even now, neither Mr. Ford nor Supt. Taverner is conceding there was an issue.
A huffy statement from the Premier instead blamed his opponents for making something out of nothing. “It is very unfortunate that the opposition has chosen to politicize this process rather than focusing on how we can support our front-line officers,” Mr. Ford said. In other words, anyone who questions this decision must be against the cop on the beat. Vintage Ford: Those who oppose us are enemies of the people.
Mr. Ford may imagine that, now his friend is out of the running, the dust will settle and everyone will forget out about the Taverner affair. If so, he is dreaming. Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner is investigating the matter. A whole host of questions need answering.
How did Supt. Taverner get chosen in the first place? He is a 72-year-old, 50-year veteran well past the usual retirement date for police commanders. His rank of superintendent is below that required to lead the OPP – or at least it was until the government lowered the qualifications and made him suddenly eligible. Does Mr. Ford expect the public to believe he really had no say, no influence, no input whatever and that his friend rose to the front of the pack of applicants purely on his own merit?
There are lots of reasons to be skeptical. We know that Supt. Taverner and Mr. Ford were photographed chumming around at a number of events last year, including a golf tournament and a charitable gathering at the Premier’s family cottage. We know that Mr. Ford had complaints about his OPP security detail, that he threatened to approach OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes about it and that the Premier said if the commissioner could not fix the problem, then “maybe a new commissioner can make it happen.” That, at least, is how one police officer tells it in an internal e-mail. Commissioner Hawkes retired not long after, and the job of heading the OPP became open.
We know that shortly after that Mr. Ford appointed veteran cop Mario Di Tommaso to the post of deputy minister in the Ministry of Community Safety, which is in charge of the police. He was a senior commander in the Toronto force and oversaw the divisions in the city’s northwest led by Supt. Taverner. A few weeks later, Mr. Di Tommaso sat on the panel that helped select Supt. Taverner.
Oh, and one more thing: We know that this week the Ford government fired the man who has complained the loudest about the whole sorry business. OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair blew the whistle about, among other things, Mr. Ford’s demand that the OPP get him a tricked-out touring van with flat-screen TV and swivelling leather seats. Mr. Di Tommaso travelled to OPP headquarters to dismiss him face-to-face.
Mr. Ford’s people insist once again that there is nothing to see here. The decision came from the public service, not politicians. Deputy commissioner Blair got the boot for talking to the media without permission and breaking confidentiality rules, not just for speaking his mind and embarrassing the Premier. In fact, they would have us believe that the whole Taverner hubbub is the creation of a bitter opposition, the jackal media and a resentful cop passed over for promotion.
If you believe that, then I have a van to sell you. It’s a beaut. Leather seats – and they swivel.