An ethics report into the Progressive Conservatives’ failed bid to install Premier Doug Ford’s friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner proves the “bogus” hiring process was “rigged,” charges the lawyer for former deputy commissioner Brad Blair.
Blair “took a bullet for the service,” said lawyer Julian Falconer, when he was fired by the government after exposing possible conflicts in Taverner’s appointment as well as the Tories’ attempt to get an Ontario Provincial Police van with $50,000 of customized upgrades for Ford’s use.
While integrity commissioner J. David Wake’s 101-page report concluded Ford “did not breach” the law himself, it revealed the hiring process was fraught with problems and that the premier’s office was intimately involved.
Falconer said Wake’s review released Wednesday is a searing indictment of the provincial government.
“The finding that … what was supposed to be an independent hiring process was in fact a sham rigged for a certain result is nothing to be proud of,” he told reporters Thursday.
“Brad Blair did this in the first place to protect the OPP,” the lawyer said of Blair’s legal battle to force the Ontario ombudsman to probe the Taverner hiring.
His lawsuit exposed the premier’s unsuccessful efforts to get a customized OPP van with a powered reclining leather sofa, 32-inch TV with Blu-ray DVD player, and a mini-fridge.
For his trouble, the 32-year OPP veteran, who was briefly interim commissioner of the force, was sacked by the Tory government. He is considering a wrongful dismissal suit.
Falconer said his client’s case is bolstered by Wake’s report.
The ethics watchdog wrote that “there were some troubling aspects of the recruitment process and ultimately made the finding that the process was flawed” and that the field appeared tilted in Taverner’s favour.
The 72-year-old Toronto police superintendent, a Ford family friend, withdrew his name from consideration for the post on March 6 amid outcry over his hiring.
York Regional Police deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, 51, who has no connection to the premier, was appointed the new commissioner last week.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wake’s “report is damning in every way and that is why it is absolutely necessary that we have a public inquiry” to shed light on what went on behind the scenes to ensure such appointments are conducted more transparently in the future.
“There were emails that were missing,” said Horwath, referring to a concern from the integrity commissioner that he did not receive all of the materials he sought during his three-month probe.
“This report speaks volumes about the inside deals and the backroom shenanigans that went on during this process. It stinks all the way around, still,” she said.
But Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones accused the NDP of a “politically motivated hatchet job” that sullied the reputation of Taverner, a 51-year police veteran who did not meet the original qualifications threshold for the job until the government lowered it.
“It’s clear from the beginning that this complaint was frivolous and without merit. The integrity commissioner’s report clearly shows that,” Jones said
But Jones ducked repeated media questions about why the government claimed there was an “independent” hiring panel overseeing the appointment when Wake found that was not the case, thanks to emails and texts between Dean French, Ford’s chief of staff, and Steve Orsini, then the secretary of cabinet.
The integrity commissioner noted “anyone examining these messages would have serious doubts as to the fairness of the process to the other candidates,” such as Blair.
Orsini, who was head of the Ontario public service, announced his retirement in December amid concerns about the installation of Taverner. He had warned French against claiming it was an “independent” process.
“Independent of who? I’m the deputy minister to the premier and Ron reported to Mario (Di Tommaso, a deputy minister hired by Ford) when he was at TPS (Toronto police service),” Orsini wrote in a message included in Wake’s report. “I would drop the word independent and just call it ‘recruitment selection panel’ where no political staff were involved.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1