News from the Park – December 24

Lately, to say that there is never a dull moment in Queen’s Park would by no means an understatement. To be sure, Kathleen Wynne definitely kept the all of the parties on their toes but truly Doug Ford’s wave of legislative changes and budget cuts make Wynne’s years in office look like ripples on the pond in comparison to Ford’s tidal waves.

Since the legislature began sitting immediately after the June election, Doug Ford has come out of the gate like a novicesprinterrunning in his first marathon. He seemed to take great delight in hitting the ground running at top speed with a great smile of satisfaction, with a look of confidence that was intended to show citizens just how easy the job of running the province and cleaning up a mess was going to be for the Conservatives. But you don’t have to be a star athlete to know that when you are in a marathon the key to winning the race is to maintain a constant and strong pace to ensure you don’t run out of energy a few hundred metres down the path.

But, just like the sprinter in the marathon, the rookie premier went at it full tilt. And now, some curves have come along in his path in rapid succession which seem be causing Ford and his crew to show signs of stumbling over some of their shoelaces that have come undone. In fact, by early December Ford was puffing hard enough that he chose to call for a time-out by recessing the legislature a week earlier than scheduled. Seems like the sprinter needed to catch his breath.

The need for a ‘time-out’ was the result of being bombarded with increasing negative pushback after deciding to move the Child Advocate, Environmental Commissioner and the Francophone Commissioner under the umbrella of the Ontario Ombudsman’s office. He also scrapped plans to establish a true Francophone university for Ontarians.

Along the way too came accusations of vindictive meddling in municipal election reforms while an election was underway, high paying patronage appointments, political enemy payback firings and hidden backroom deals. All of these represented some pretty substantial bumps for the government. In recent days, however, Ford has been getting tripped up in his own shoelaces over much higher profile accusations which may be harder navigate.

It was recently announced that Toronto Police Unit Commander Ron Taverner would be the next Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). Of course the OPP is responsible for providing police services through the province in areas where no local police services exist. However it is important to note the OPP is also responsible for providing security and investigative services as required for the Legislative Assembly. The ink wasn’t even dry upon the announcement page before news was out that Taverner has been a long-time friend of the Ford family and specifically a close friend of Doug Ford himself. This announcement immediately raised red flags with concerns over political interference by the Premier. Further the calls of foul gained credibility when it was learned that Taverner did not initially meet the rank requirements until they were significantly lowered by government committee so that Taverner could then qualify only two days after his application was submitted.

To make matters even worse for the premier, a letter from Interim Commissioner of the OPP, Brad Blair, accuses Doug Ford of pressuring the OPP to purchase a large camper-type vehicle, have it modified to Ford’s own personal specifications. And to top all of this off, Ford’s office requested that the OPP keep the entire purchase off the books, out of public scrutiny.

Here in Canada, our police forces operate without political interference or conflict of interest. Canada operates under the rule of law and it is imperative that politicians have no direct influence on how our police services do their jobs. OPP leadership, officers, staff, and police officers from other forces have expressed deep concern over potential political interference in the police, and specifically to Doug Ford’s clear unwillingness to maintain the appropriate distance from policing matters. By appointing a close personal friend to the position of OPP Commissioner, and tainting the hiring process in general, Doug Ford has cast a dark cloud of suspicion and even potential mistrust of the public in the relationship between Queen’s Park and Ontario’s police services.  Premier Ford has demonstrated poor judgement and a lack of transparency that has led to a cloud of suspicion over the entire process.

As a result of this, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is asking the Integrity Commissioner to use a rarely-used power to trigger a public inquiry into Doug Ford’s interference in the police commissioner pick. New Democrats say that there must be an investigation that is open to public scrutiny into Doug Ford’s interference in selecting the new OPP Commissioner and in directing the force to take direction from the Premier’s office.

The police services that we receive in Algoma-Manitoulin are primarily through the OPP. The independence of police forces is fundamental to the health of our democracy. As such, this means that Ontarians deserve police forces which are free from political influence – real or perceived. As well, our OPP need to be any above political reproach and free from political interference.

Mike Mantha