The expression “venetian blind trust” is already taken – former prime minister Joe Clark coined it in 2003 – so let’s just say Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s financial arrangements are louvred.
Mr. Ford promised earlier this year he would, if elected premier, place his controlling interest in Deco Labels and Tags Ltd. in a blind trust.
This week, it emerged that he has removed himself as sole director of the company and named his wife and daughters as directors in his place. But on Friday, a spokesman for the Premier refused to comment on whether his assets are now in a blind trust, as promised.
The Premier might be entitled to greater latitude in this regard had Toronto’s municipal integrity commissioner not found in 2016 that, while a city councillor, Mr. Ford accepted gifts from two Deco clients and arranged meetings at city hall so they could drum up new business.
Not so long ago, people of means felt the obligation upon entering public office to shield themselves from perceived conflicts of interest via truly independent trustees. In retrospect, the business entanglements of ex-prime minister Paul Martin, whose management trust prompted Mr. Clark’s memorable jibe, feel like a turning point.
Then again, there is no perfect solution. Even robustly designed blind trusts are not in and of themselves a guarantee of probity. But they do have value as a proactive, good faith gesture. Mr. Ford hasn’t done that.
It’s helpful to him that he can invoke Ontario’s provincial integrity commissioner’s official imprimatur on his arrangement. Given the opacity of financial disclosures at Queen’s Park, perhaps it’s time to examine the province’s ethics rules more closely.
The simplest way to ensure politicians remain above-board is to subject them to enforced transparency and independent oversight. This is an issue governments at all levels could stand to take more seriously.
Mr. Ford, meanwhile, assures Ontarians the overlap between his family business and his official duties will be non-existent. “I’m just too busy to ever get involved,” he said.
We shouldn’t have to take his word for it.