Premier Doug Ford is angrily denying a former Progressive Conservative MPP’s allegations that there is “possible illegal and unregistered lobbying” by his inner circle.
With the opposition New Democrats urging the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate claims made by maverick MPP Randy Hillier, the premier was on the defensive Tuesday.
“There’s absolutely no truth to any of the allegations. The accusations are absolutely ridiculous,” Ford thundered in the legislature under aggressive questioning from NDP MPP Taras Natyshak.
In a letter to his constituents Monday, Hillier, who was expelled from the PC caucus last week, said he was turfed for “raising concerns of possible illegal and unregistered lobbying by close friends and advisers employed by Premier Ford.”
The Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP, who was not available for comment Tuesday, has provided no specifics about the alleged improper lobbying.
“They sent out an email: ‘Come and join the leader of the NDP, Andrea Horwath, for $800. It’s an open bar.’ And you actually get a reward. That is what it said in the letter: You will get a reward by having access to her highness,” he said, taunting Horwath.
But the premier appeared rattled when Natyshak (Essex) cited Hillier’s letter, which mentions Ford’s chief of staff Dean French and Chris Froggatt, head of the Tory election readiness committee.
“The member from Essex walks around here like he’s a big tough guy … but why doesn’t the big tough guy walk outside and make those accusations outside this door if he’s so tough?” the premier said, referring to the fact that MPPs’ statements in the legislature are privileged.
“He’s not tough. He knows he doesn’t have a good enough lawyer to walk outside those doors. He walks around as a tough guy, but he’s nothing but a coward.”
Natyshak, who contacted police with his concerns Monday, countered: “I guess we know why the premier wanted his buddy to head up the OPP so badly.”
That was a reference to the Tories’ unsuccessful bid to have Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, 72, a long-time Ford family friend, head the provincial police.
After months of controversy and an ongoing ethics probe by integrity commissioner J. David Wake, Taverner finally withdrew his name from consideration earlier this month.
York Regional Police deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, who has never met Ford, was appointed the new commissioner last week.
Hillier was originally turfed after being accused of saying “yada yada yada” to parents of children with autism who had packed the public gallery in the legislature over recent government changes last month.
But he maintained his barb was directed at NDP MPP Monique Taylor.
Now, the Tories say Hillier was exiled for “not wanting to be a part of the team.”
“The reason that Randy was removed from caucus is that Randy didn’t show up for work,” said government house leader Todd Smith.
“We knew that Randy was going to make some noise on his way out the door,” said Smith.
“But he’s given no evidence of his claims at all. There’s been nothing.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie