For a premier who once billed himself as the head of Ontario’s “first ever Government for the People,” Doug Ford has some rather kingly instincts.
How else do you describe a premier whose sprawling Etobicoke home was opened last August to Progressive Conservative courtiers bearing coin of the realm to help ease the financial burden of his daughter’s impending betrothal?
It’s like something out of a distant era, when princelings bearing gifts and flattery rode gilded carriages to Versailles Palace in France at the summons of that other well known man of the people, Louis XIV.
Some of the invitees who attended were land developers. And at the wedding a month later, two prominent developers – one whose companies have benefited from Ford government decisions to fast-track projects, and one who stands to benefit from the decision last fall to open up discrete parcels of land for housing construction in Ontario’s protected Greenbelt zone – were the premier’s guests.
Last week, Mr. Ford denied any impropriety and portrayed himself as a victim of the media. “I think that’s the first time that’s ever come out in Canadian history, someone asking about someone’s daughter’s wedding,” he said.
He also insisted that the matter had been put to rest by the province’s integrity commissioner. But both of his contentions fail to ring true.
If Mr. Ford is a victim of anything, it is of his own poor judgment, which transformed his daughter’s wedding from a private family event into a matter very much in the public interest.
As for the integrity commissioner, that’s a red herring. Mr. Ford went to him four months after the wedding, when reporters started asking questions, to seek an opinion about his compliance with the province’s integrity rules.
The commissioner’s written opinion that the Premier was in compliance was based entirely on Mr. Ford’s claims that the developer guests were “friends of the Ford family, and in some cases have been for decades,” that the Premier “had no knowledge of gifts given to his daughter and son-in-law,” and that “there was no discussion of government business.”
There was no actual investigation into the matter, no fact-finding, no search for narratives other than the premier’s. In short, Mr. Ford said he didn’t do anything wrong, and the integrity commissioner said, “Okay.”
There is much that is troubling here. But in the end it only deepens a larger mystery: why Mr. Ford, after repeatedly vowing as Premier that he would never open up the Greenbelt to development, suddenly reversed himself last fall.
He has simply never offered a credible explanation for the decision to carve 15 pieces of land out of the protected zone.
What is known is that Mr. Ford was an enthusiastic proponent of opening up the Greenbelt to development before he became PC leader in 2018 and made that fact known to supporters.
The question now is not whether he has friends in the development business (he does), whether some landowners in the Greenbelt are PC Party donors (at least four are, based on a Globe and Mail investigation), and whether they could benefit from a decision made by the Ontario government (they could). None of these things is inherently wrong.
The question is whether Mr. Ford or someone in his government used their influence to further the interests of friends and donors in the Greenbelt.
Ontario’s integrity commissioner refused a request from an opposition MPP to investigate Mr. Ford over the matter, citing a lack of evidence that went beyond media reports. But the commissioner is investigating whether Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark broke insider information and conflict of interest rules, this time citing the presence of “direct evidence.” (Mr. Clark says he looks forward to being exonerated.)
The Ontario Provincial Police also confirmed in early January that it is looking into complaints with a view to possibly opening up an investigation, but has made no further announcement.
The bottom line is that Mr. Ford is on the defensive. There was already a bad smell coming from the Greenbelt decision. Unless the Premier provides some transparency on the issue and credibly demonstrates that he and his cabinet were isolated from a controversial decision made by the government, the smell is not going to go away.