Ontario Premier Doug Ford hosted a party at his house where land developers brought cash gifts for his soon-to-be-married daughter.
Wow. That’s a real problem.
Let’s see if this makes it better: The Premier said those developers (whom he won’t name) were his buddies.
Nope. Not much better. Mr. Ford is friends with a lot of developers, in some cases for decades – but that doesn’t mean everything is okay because the cash gifts came from the Premier’s pals.
But wait: Mr. Ford eventually went to the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, David Wake who, according to the Premier, cleared it “1,000 per cent.”
Still not better. Now it appears Ontario has another problem. Because if this kind of thing is okay, then the province’s ethics regime is itself broken.
It is worth noting Mr. Wake didn’t conduct an inquiry, but instead gave an opinion based on the information Mr. Ford supplied to his office. Based on that information – specifically, that the Premier had no knowledge of the gifts to his daughter and son-in-law, and that no government business was discussed at the party – the commissioner’s opinion was that there was “nothing to indicate non-compliance with the Members’ Integrity Act.”
In a press conference, Mr. Ford assured Ontarians that it was “ridiculous” that journalists were even asking about it: “I know the difference of what we should and shouldn’t do,” he said.
No, Mr. Ford. You do not.
A premier should never allow this to happen. And if it happens without the premier’s knowledge, then he should be aghast – and immediately reveal it all publicly, in detail.
Why? Because the ethical principles for our political leaders aren’t just supposed to catch them if they do something that is flat-out corrupt. They are supposed to prevent them entering into a situation where they receive benefits from people who might want things from government – to avoid raising questions about potential conflicts in the public’s mind.
The event in question was a pre-wedding “stag and doe” party held last summer for Mr. Ford’s daughter and her fiancé, where guests brought cash gifts for the couple.
The Toronto Star reported the names of two developers invited whose businesses have been affected by decisions of Mr. Ford’s government. Mario Cortellucci, who the Star said sat at the Premier’s table, had properties that obtained provincial zoning orders; developer Shakir Rehmatullah’s companies own property that Mr. Ford’s government recently removed from the province’s protected Greenbelt area.
Developers who bought Ontario Greenbelt land linked to Ford government
Of course, Mr. Ford can certainly have friends, and developer friends, too. But no premier should allow such an event, let alone host it.
The stag and does might be a tradition in some places, but once you are the premier – or your dad is premier – the financial donations have to be off limits. It’s not okay for cash to be solicited for the Premier’s family member, especially from people who are likely to have business interests in provincial government decisions.
That should go without saying. But lately there seems to be an unwillingness to understand the basics of ethical principles in government.
In federal politics, Liberal Trade Minister Mary Ng was recently found to have breached the Conflict of Interest Act by steering two contracts to a company run by a friend, yet she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shrugged it off as a mere mistake.
Now Mr. Ford doesn’t even seem to see the problem with hosting this party.
It’s hard to know just how many of the guests had business with the government, or who solicited which invitees for how much cash – because Mr. Ford insists that is a private, personal, family matter. It is not.
If Mr. Ford did not know about the gifts, one has to wonder why his daughter and whoever organized the shindig didn’t tell him. Isn’t he angry he was left in the dark? He did not even ask the Integrity Commissioner for an opinion about whether the party broke the rules until long afterward, when journalists asked questions.
The point is that the event put a premier in a situation that raises the kind of questions that are supposed to be avoided by a government conflict-of-interest and ethics regime. It should never have happened. The Premier is wrong to defend it. And if the rules allow it, they need to be changed.