NDP flags conflict-of-interest rules in Taverner hiring

The NDP is trying to derail the appointment of Premier Doug Ford’s friend Ron Taverner as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police by raising a potential conflict of interest on the hiring panel.

New Democrat MPP Kevin Yarde is questioning why Taverner’s former boss at the Toronto Police Service — who became deputy minister of community safety and corrections last fall — “did not recuse himself from the decision-making process” given conflict-of-interest guidelines for public servants.

“As you are aware, Deputy Minister Mario Di Tommaso played a key role in the search and hiring process,” Yarde wrote Wednesday in a two-page letter to Ontario’s top civil servant, cabinet secretary Steve Orsini.

“Among other roles, he sat in on both first- and second-stage job interviews and, according to Premier Doug Ford, recommended Ronald Taverner for the position,” states Yarde, his party’s critic for community safety and corrections.

He noted that Taverner publicly praised Di Tomasso’s hiring by the Ford government before applying for the OPP post after the qualification level for applicants was lowered.

“The public has a right to know if you were fully briefed on this close relationship before you offered your opinion and, if so, why you felt this did not raise concerns about the appearance of preferential treatment,” the MPP added.

“Any insight and clarity you can provide would be appreciated.”

Orsini was also on the hiring panel that unanimously recommended to Ford and his cabinet that Taverner, 72, be offered the $275,000-a-year job heading Canada’s second-largest police force.

The Star has not yet received replies to emailed requests for comment from Orsini, his office, or Di Tommaso.

The cabinet secretary announced his retirement in December after a furor erupted over the Taverner appointment, which is now on hold at Taverner’s request pending an investigation by provincial integrity commissioner J. David Wake.

In his letter, Yarde quoted two sections of the conflict-of-interest rules.

The first states “a public servant shall not give preferential treatment to any person or entity … in which the public servant or a member of his or her family has an interest.”

A second paragraph stipulates “a public servant shall endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given to a person or entity that could benefit from it.”

The close relationship between Ford and Taverner, who dine together frequently, has raised questions about the independence of the OPP.

Yarde, whose concerns sparked the formal investigation by the integrity commissioner, said earlier this week that Ford’s repeated claims that he had no influence on the Taverner hiring are “crumbling.”

Ford insisted Monday that the hiring of an OPP commissioner is a “political appointment.”

That is not the way it has traditionally been at Queen’s Park, as previous premiers have not viewed it as a patronage post.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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