Doug Ford has dodged a bullet, and the OPP is making a speedy recovery.
But this premier has not emerged unscathed from the friendly fire he inflicted on the Ontario Provincial Police, nor the collateral damage visited upon his own office.
Blinded by hubris, enamoured of his personal pals, intoxicated by his power to lavish largesse on cronies, Ford put himself — and all of us — in harm’s way. For the OPP is the province’s police force, not the premier’s personal plaything.
An unprecedented report on his conduct, by the legislature’s integrity commissioner, delivers a mixed verdict:
No formal wrongdoing — no personal enrichment, no direct conflict of interest, no technical violations of the rules — in the attempt to install longtime family friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner.
The 101-page summary of David Wake’s three-month investigation is a sobering indictment of people at the locus of power twisting themselves out of shape to please and appease the premier — anticipating his personal preferences, rather than safeguarding the public interest. Yes, it is a cautionary tale, but no, the premier is in no mood to learn lessons.
Ford boasted, unabashedly, about his “complete — I repeat a complete — vindication.” He also warned all who oppose him that “we will not let disruptive partisan tactics … distract us.”
Disruptive? As Ontario’s disrupter in chief, the premier understands the power of disruption, distraction and destruction.
Perhaps, after Taverner’s humiliating withdrawal from the OPP appointment after months of public protests, Ford still believes he did the right thing. And would do it all over again.
Possibly, after the embarrassing resignation of Steve Orsini as head of Ontario’s non-partisan public service, over Ford’s refusal to delay the Taverner appointment, the premier would by now be having second thoughts. Not insisting that he was wronged.
But at a time when a wiser politician would be cutting his losses, this premier remained unrepentant Wednesday, insisting, “We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Notwithstanding the integrity commissioner’s narrative, the premier has his own self-serving story and he’s sticking to it.
The timeline is more complicated. It began as a classic patronage play — offering a cushy $270,000 job at the government-owned Ontario Cannabis Store to his favourite neighbourhood cop.
It culminated with Taverner turning down the munificent marijuana job and holding out instead for the more powerful post of OPP chief. Except that he didn’t have the required qualifications, never having risen to the rank of deputy chief at Toronto police service.
When word got out that the prerequisites had been diluted, allowing Taverner to apply after all, he was damaged goods. The integrity commissioner takes the government at its word that this was an innocent downgrading of the required credentials, the better to select a top-grade chief.
But the public timeline, and the private correspondence, leave little doubt that the fix was in from the get-go — starting with the gift-wrapped cannabis offering. Orsini, fully cognizant that he served at the pleasure of the premier, made sure to keep Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, in the loop, sending frequent updates on the selection process.
But as the process dragged on, and dragged him down, Orsini had enough. As Ford’s deputy minister, he urged cabinet to suspend the appointment, and had the required ministerial signatures lined up — but the premier demanded more time to mull it over.
“It is my best advice that Mr. Taverner withdraw from the position until this matter can be further reviewed by the integrity commissioner,” Orsini recommended.
When Ford held firm, Orsini quit. Ultimately, Taverner also bowed out. And the premier lost out.
This month, the government announced a new OPP Commissioner, former York Region deputy chief Thomas Carrique. By all accounts he is a good fit for the job, even if the selection process was quick and opaque.
A better outcome, but two hasty hirings don’t make this flawed process any better than the last one. If nothing else, that’s the takeaway from the integrity commissioner’s report:
“For a position of this importance and given the sensitivity of the relationship between the government and the police,” we need to do better next time, it concludes.
At a time when the OPP are so often called upon to investigate politicians — Ford threatened to sic the police on the NDP Wednesday, the NDP called for an investigation of the premier Monday, and the last Liberal government was investigated by the anti-rackets squad for years — the commissioner must be above reproach, beyond suspicion, and free from personal entanglements.
For all of Ford’s protests that Taverner was the right man at the right time, he has displayed a tin ear — and a thin skin — all along. The premier lost the plot on the police.
This time, the public protests were too loud to ignore. Next time, will he get his way?
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn