Democracy group disputes integrity commissioner’s findings that cleared Premier Doug Ford of violating ethics law

The ethics report that cleared Doug Ford of breaching integrity laws in the hiring of Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner is “negligently bad” because it ignores the fact that the premier earlier offered his friend another patronage job, charges Democracy Watch.

In a scorching criticism of integrity commissioner J. David Wake’s 101-page probe of the Taverner appointment, the Ottawa-based non-partisan government accountability organization said the watchdog’s probe fell short.

“Wake’s ruling on the Ford government’s attempted appointment of Ford’s close friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner is one of the most negligently bad reports by a Canadian ethics commissioner that I have seen in the past 25 years,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and an adjunct professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa, said Friday.

“Ford offered another government job to Taverner, and Ford’s senior staff person tried to influence the OPP appointment process to favour Taverner and Ford is responsible for his staff’s actions, and Ford also participated in the cabinet meeting that approved Taverner’s appointment,” said Conacher.

“Those are all clear violations of the provincial ethics law that commissioner Wake negligently ignored. For these reasons, Democracy Watch will consult with lawyers concerning filing a court challenge of commissioner’s Wake’s ruling,” he said.

After public outcry — and legal action by former deputy OPP commissioner Brad Blair, fired for exposing the Tories’ attempt to get an police van with $50,000 of customized upgrades for Ford’s use — Taverner, 72, withdrew his name from consideration for the post on March 6.

York Regional Police deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, 51, was appointed the new commissioner last week.

Democracy Watch expressed concern that Wake’s report did not censure Ford for personally promising to hire Taverner as the $270,000-a-year president of community outreach at the Ontario Cannabis Store, the government’s new recreational marijuana retailer.

That appointment did not go ahead after Taverner said he was “getting cold feet” about leaving policing after 51 years on the beat.

As a result, the OPP commissioner’s position was seen as a consolation prize.

“Premier Ford tried to hand a government job to his friend Ron Taverner, which clearly would be improper and also would further Mr. Taverner’s private interests,” said Democracy Watch, noting that is a violation of the Members’ Integrity Act.

As well, Wake’s report found Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, intervened in the hiring of Taverner to tilt things in his favour.

“Under the fundamental principle of ministerial responsibility, Premier Ford is responsible and accountable for the actions of his staff, and therefore these actions violated … the act,” the advocacy group said.

“Sections 2 and 4 of the provincial Members’ Integrity Act prohibit provincial politicians from participating in or trying to influence any decision that could further their own interests or improperly further another person’s interests.”

Wake’s office did not immediately respond to questions from the Star.

Ford has maintained he did nothing wrong and that the integrity commissioner vindicated him.

“We’ve been cleared. We followed the letter of the law,” the premier said Wednesday.

Blair, a runner-up to Taverner in the job search, is considering a wrongful dismissal suit against the province.

His court battle to force the Ontario ombudsman to investigate the Taverner hiring led to the disclosure that the premier’s office tried 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 Ford’s use.

In the wake of that suit, the 32-year veteran, who was briefly interim commissioner of the OPP, was fired by the Tory government.

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Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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