New Democrats are keeping the pressure on over the controversial appointment of Ron Taverner — now on hold — as head of the Ontario Provincial Police, calling for a full public inquiry.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is asking Ontario integrity commissioner J. David Wake to invoke rarely used powers under the Public Inquiries Act usually reserved for the premier and cabinet.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Horwath said in a statement Tuesday. “The investigation into Doug Ford’s interference in Ontario’s police force, and the attempt to install an insider as commissioner, can’t only happen behind closed doors.”
Wake’s office is now conducting a review of the hiring of Taverner, a veteran Toronto police superintendent and long-time friend of Premier Doug Ford and his family, in response to concerns he got the job because of his relationship with the premier.
That controversy prompted Taverner to request on Saturday that the appointment be “postponed” until Wake’s review is completed. Questions were raised after qualification requirements were lowered during the application period, clearing the way for Taverner, 72, to submit his resume. On Monday, Taverner returned to his job at Toronto police heading divisions in northwest Toronto, including the Ford family stomping ground of Etobicoke.
Former commissioners of the RCMP and OPP, among others, have sounded the alarm over potential conflicts of interest if a friend of the premier heads the police force, particularly if it has to investigate anything related to the government — as occurred several years ago in the scandal over a previous Liberal regime’s cancellation of two gas plants. Criminal charges and a conviction resulted.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones rejected the NDP calls for a full public inquiry, saying Wake’s review will suffice.
“The investigation has begun…I look forward to the report,” she told MPPs in the legislature’s daily question period.
“There was nothing wrong with the process and Ron Taverner is an excellent choice for OPP commissioner.”
Jones added she expects the integrity commissioner’s report to “reinforce why Ron Taverner is an excellent choice for OPP commissioner.”
Among others, Taverner was chosen above deputy OPP commissioner Brad Blair and a former senior Mountie who headed the RCMP’s Ontario operations.
The NDP move came a day after Ford’s Progressive Conservative government rejected a motion to establish a select committee of MPPs to investigate the hiring.
That’s why a full public inquiry should be the next step, said Horwath, calling it “critical to continued public confidence in the OPP.
“An investigation of this importance…has to be an open, transparent process.”
A full public inquiry would include powers to summon witnesses and request documents.
Taverner has not replied to interview requests from the Star.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1