My friends, as Premier of this great province, I want to clear the air on this whole Ron Taverner thing. I don’t want the people of Ontario to think, for even one second, that my government, the Government for the People, would do anything to undermine the independence of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Our cops are tops, and I don’t want there to be a shadow of a doubt about their integrity. No way. Should the day ever come when the OPP has to investigate this government – because, you know, governments sometimes bend the law – I don’t want people wondering if the head cop is in the pocket of the Premier. Of course I don’t want that.
So I’ve asked that my friend Ron – Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner – remove himself as a candidate for the job of OPP chief.
As I’ve said time and again, I had nothing to do with the decision to hire him. The fact that an independent process, which I was not involved in, ended up choosing my old buddy from the old neighbourhood is a total coincidence.
And the fact that the job requirements were lowered after they were posted, making my friend, a 72-year-old police officer of mid-level rank, eligible to apply, is also a coincidence. I had nothing to do with that, either.
But I know it doesn’t look right. Folks, I get it: It looks terrible. The guy in charge of the provincial police can’t be someone people think got the job because he’s best buds with the Premier. If Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals were still in government and the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be screaming bloody murder.
If they had done something like this, I’d be demanding that her buddy step aside. I’d demand that the whole hiring process to be restarted, under an arms-length panel. And most importantly, to find out if anyone in government bent the ethics rules or broke the law, I’d demand a full and independent investigation.
If Ontario Premier Doug Ford could bring himself to say some of the above, it would defuse the atmosphere of scandal and crisis that continues to surround what, in a normal government, would have been a routine hiring decision.
Instead, Mr. Ford has refused to abandon the idea that Supt. Taverner will be sworn in as the OPP’s chief. The appointment is on hold, apparently at Supt. Taverner’s request, until the integrity commissioner reports. But once that happens, the Premier said on Tuesday, “we look forward to having Ron Taverner as the commissioner of the OPP.”
The Premier is vociferously defending the choice of a 72-year-old, underqualified crony – while simultaneously insisting that it wasn’t his choice. He refuses to acknowledge the mounting evidence that something was terribly wrong with the hiring process, and with his office’s relationship with the OPP. And he refuses to recognize that someone so close to the head of government cannot be the province’s head police officer.
Instead, Mr. Ford has smeared his critics. On Tuesday, he claimed that the former acting head of the OPP, Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, was a law-breaker, and that by writing a whistleblowing letter alleging unethical and possibly illegal behaviour in the Premier’s dealings with the OPP, he had broken the Police Service Act. The Premier told journalists that there were “endless” inaccuracies in the letter, and that “I could give you a list of all the Police Act that was broken throughout that whole letter.”
The Premier then declined to provide such a list, because “none of you want to report on that.”
The people of Ontario deserve answers, not personal attacks on those raising questions.
Why were the job qualifications for OPP chief lowered two days after being posted, just enough to make room for Supt. Taverner? Was the Premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, involved in that decision? Was the Premier?
Who was on the hiring panel? Who made the hiring decision? And what about Deputy Commissioner Blair’s allegation that the Premier’s chief of staff asked the OPP to procure a “camper-type vehicle” for the Premier, without putting the contract out to tender, and keeping the spending off the books and hidden from the public? If true, that may be a crime. Is it true?
It’s clear the Ford government will only answer questions asked by those it does not have the power to bully, silence or ignore. There has to be an independent inquiry, led by an independent party like a retired judge, with the power to subpoena witnesses. Nothing else will do.