The deputy OPP commissioner fired after going public with concerns about the hiring of Premier Doug Ford’s friend as head of the provincial police is threatening to sue the government for wrongful dismissal.
Brad Blair, sacked by the Progressive Conservative government on Monday, “will seek full accountability and compensation for the actions leading to his termination.”
Blair’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, said the surprise decision late Wednesday by Ford pal, Ron Taverner, to withdraw his name from consideration to be OPP commissioner, bolsters the former deputy’s case.
“Last night’s news vindicates Brad Blair’s unwavering resolve to protect the OPP from political interference,” said Falconer.
“Brad Blair was right in insisting on transparency and accountability in defence of the Ontario Provincial Police,” he said.
“It is sad in the extreme that the destruction of a good man’s career is the price to be paid for exposing political cronyism and abuse of power.”
Ford’s bid to install his friend, a 72-year-old Toronto police superintendent, as OPP head ended after more than three months of controversy.
Taverner, whose appointment had been in limbo while an ethics probe was ongoing, bowed out Wednesday night amid concerns of political interference in his hiring.
“Both Ron Taverner and Premier Ford shared the same concerns that the appointment was being overly politicized and it’s in the best interests of front-line officers for Taverner to withdraw,” a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, told the Star.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones — who, like Ford, insisted Taverner was the best person for the job and denied any role in his unexpected Nov. 29 appointment — said “we will have more to say about the role of the commissioner in the near future.”
In a statement released by Ford’s office, Taverner said “this decision is not an easy one for me to make.”
“I believe the OPP requires new leadership and a change in culture at its most senior levels,” he said.
Stung by the rebuke, Ford said “it is very unfortunate that the opposition has chosen to politicize this process rather than focusing on how we can support our front-line officers.”
The premier emphasized he is “concerned about the countless negative stories I have heard directly from front-line officers.”
In December, Ford said “there has never been a more popular police officer in this province than Ron Taverner.”
“We look forward to having Ron Taverner as the commissioner of the OPP. You look at his credentials, speaks for itself, 50 years of policing around the province,” he said at the time.
But the debacle has taken a toll on the premier and his government.
Blair’s lawsuit to force the Ontario ombudsman to probe the Taverner appointment revealed Ford’s desire the for a customized OPP van with a powered reclining leather sofa, 32-inch TV with Blu-ray DVD player, and a minifridge.
The suit also exposed private — and profane — conversations the premier had complaining about the rotation of his OPP security detail.
“I’ve asked for my own detail of officers who I trust already,” said Ford, according to documents filed with the Ontario Superior Court.
“It feels like I’m not being heard, like I’m getting f—ed around by the OPP and I’m getting more pissed off,” he added, according to dialogue reported in a July 18, 2018 email from Sgt. Terrance Murphy to a superior.
“I’m going to call the commissioner and sort this out. This is the last straw,” the premier continued.
“If I have to, I will drive up there to see him face-to-face so he can see how serious I am about this. If he can’t sort this out then maybe a new commissioner can make it happen.”
Taverner applied for the OPP job last fall when qualifications were lowered two days after the initial posting.
That allowed someone of his mid-level rank to be in the running.
Despite their close friendship Ford has always denied any political interference in the appointment.
Integrity commissioner J. David Wake has been investigating whether there was political interference following a complaint from the NDP.
Wake interviewed Ford late last week and has also questioned his chief of staff, Dean French.
Interim OPP commissioner Gary Couture will remain at the helm until a permanent replacement is found.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie