Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner has done the Doug Ford government, and everyone, a huge favour by declining the controversial offer to assume the job of top cop in the province.
Predictably, Ford is looking the gift horse in the mouth, refusing to cut his losses and move on.
An independent appraisal of the controversy leads to an obvious conclusion: Ford never should have appointed his personal and family friend as OPP commissioner. And having done so, and having been called out resolutely and persuasively by partisan and non-partisan voices, Ford’s best response would have been to seek an out.
But that’s not the premier’s style. Like another bombastic, politically incorrect politician who has little patience for process and nuance and public perception much less real conflict of interest, Ford has doubled down.
Clinging to what best fuels his brand of politics, hubris and arrogance, Ford says: the opposition parties reject Taverner’s appointment because they hate the police; he’s spoken to “hundreds” of OPP officers who tell him, in effect, Taverner is just what the province’s police force needs; those opposing Taverner’s appointment are hell-bent on politicizing the process; any clear-minded person would see that the 72-year-old Taverner is ideal for the job.
Actually, Taverner is not at all suited. And by withdrawing his name from consideration, Taverner has shown better judgment than his friend.
This is not about Taverner. He is a capable police leader, now into more than half a century of serving and protecting the people of Toronto. It’s about process, abuse of privilege, and the arrogance of a man who thinks that, as the top political dog he can bark and howl and have people cower in fear and dread, without effective blowback.
Unexpectedly, OPP Deputy Brad Blair would have none of the appointment and publicized what is blatantly obvious. The appointment of Taverner smacks of conflict of interest, political influence peddling, and bad judgment.
The fact that the job requirements were lowered to reflect Taverner’s resume should be reason enough for concern. Then there is the involvement of Mario Di Tommaso, a deputy minister in the ministry that oversees the police, Taverner’s former boss at the Toronto police force, and a member of the interview panel for the vacant OPP top job. It was Di Tommaso who fired Blair this week, sparking further controversy.
The Ontario Provincial Police must be extremely independent of the government. Its head, the commissioner, cannot have any allegiance or ties, real or imagined, to the ruling party or its leader. It is the OPP that is called to conduct investigation of wrongdoing by the politicians at Queen’s Park. When such an investigation is engaged, all parties must have confidence that the head of the investigation, the boss, is independent and impartial and not influenced in any way by historical or present loyalties.
Imagine if Ford wants to investigate an opposition party member and calls on the OPP? Taverner, as OPP commissioner, would be in the awkward position of having to prove his independence. Understandably, the party being investigated would question their ability to get a fair hearing. Conversely, how strenuously would Taverner pursue a case against his buddy Doug?
None of this is fair. It’s the reality. In fact, Taverner may go out of his way to be tough on Ford, or be overly fair to Ford’s political opponents. But even that is a problem. It is impossible to avoid the reasonable apprehension of conflict of interest.
I sit on a community board with Taverner, and this association brings clearly to mind why politics, conflict of interest, and the easy perversion of a good thing is such a pervasive and ticklish issue.
We are both committed to Trust 15, a community organization started to help the kids of Rexdale find their place in this city, experience opportunities beyond their “priority neighbourhood” and become proud and brilliant citizens.
Taverner is so vested in this group that he allows them to set up office at the local police division and hold community meetings there.
Now, this is in Ford’s riding. Having been made aware of Trust 15, likely through Taverner, Ford opened his cottage to the Trust 15 kids for a summer day trip. But here’s where the balancing act becomes wobbly.
Challenged about his racial attitudes, Ford exaggerated his affiliation with the Black community, claiming he and his brother, the late mayor Rob Ford, had done more for Black people than any other politician in the country. Pressed to recall the Fords’ benevolence to Black folks, reporters challenged the PC leader.
Cornered, Ford cited Trust 15’s cottage visit — totally missing the point that if you have to cite such civic actions towards constituents you are paid to serve, you have already lost the argument. Better to do what Taverner does, every day, in more ways, with no publicity.
Doug Ford didn’t get it then. He doesn’t get it now. He is incurable, by choice, not chance.
Royson James is a former Star reporter who is a current freelance columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @roysonjames