Ron Taverner, Ford’s longtime friend, abandons controversial appointment as OPP commissioner
Premier Doug Ford’s controversial push to install his friend, Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner has been scrapped.
Taverner’s surprise decision to bow out Wednesday night comes amid a growing furor over accusations of political interference and fears that the hiring jeopardized the independence of the country’s second largest police force.
“Both Ron Taverner and Premier Ford shared the same concerns that the appointment was being overly politicized and it’s in the best interests of front-line officers for Taverner to withdraw,” a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, told the Star.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones — who, along with Ford, repeatedly defended Taverner as the best person for the job and denied any hand in his Nov. 29 appointment — confirmed the 72-year-old dropped his name from consideration.
“It is very unfortunate that the opposition has chosen to politicize this process rather than focusing on how we can support our front-line officers,” Ford said in a statement.
The premier, who remained unrepentant about the Taverner hiring, added he is “concerned about the countless negative stories I have heard directly from front-line officers.”
Taverner, who did not return messages from the Star, said in a statement released by the premier’s office “this decision is not an easy one for me to make.”
“I believe the OPP requires new leadership and a change in culture at its most senior levels,” the Toronto superintendent said.
In her brief statement, Jones said “we will have more to say about the role of the commissioner in the near future.”
The imbroglio has taken its toll on Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, with the premier ducking the legislature all week and avoiding questions from the opposition and calls for a public inquiry.
Indeed, the retreat is a personal setback for the premier, who had championed his friend as “a cop’s cop,” and a victory for rivals, with Green party Leader Mike Schreiner saying the Taverner bid made Ontario look like a banana republic.
“The separation of political interference from the police is a fundamental tenet of our democracy,” said Schreiner. “It separates us from countries where corrupt leaders use the police to do their dirty work.”
NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh praised Taverner for making the “right decision” but said she hopes Ford has learned his lesson on the dangers of hiring a friend to head the OPP, given that he did not acknowledge those concerns in his statement.
“The premier really needs to answer questions with respect to why he would even think that’s the right thing to be doing,” Singh added in an interview.
“This mess could have been avoided. It took so long because Mr. Ford thought he was going to be able to get away with this.”
In December, Ford insisted “there has never been a more popular police officer in this province than Ron Taverner.”
“We look forward to having Ron Taverner as the commissioner of the OPP. You look at his credentials, speaks for itself, 50 years of policing around the province,” the premier added at the time, saying it’s “too bad we couldn’t have a straight-up vote because Ron Taverner would win with 95 per cent of the front-line OPP officers that I’ve heard from crossing the province.”
That month, Taverner rescinded his resignation as superintendent of three Toronto police divisions in Etobicoke, and returned to his role as unit commander.
Taverner’s exit — on a day when media attention was fixated on the SNC-Lavalin scandal on Parliament Hill — follows the Ford government’s firing on Monday of deputy OPP commissioner Brad Blair, who was passed over for the top job and took legal action.
Blair’s lawsuit to force the Ontario ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s appointment exposed the premier’s efforts to get a customized van with a powered reclining leather sofa, 32-inch TV with Blu-ray DVD player and a minifridge — dubbed a “souped-up man cave on wheels” by the NDP.
Earlier Wednesday, Blair’s lawyer called the dismissal “outrageous” and said it’s “bizarre” he was ousted without any official warnings or proceedings under the Police Services Act despite protestations from Ford that he violated the law by releasing information about the hiring and the $50,000 van conversion.
“God help you if you cross the premier. That’s the message,” Julian Falconer added in a 42-minute conference call with reporters.
“While they throw around references to the Police Act, they’re not using it. This is exactly what abuse of power looks like.”
The collateral damage of the flawed decision to appoint Taverner is “an absolute shame,” said Singh.
Taverner is a veteran Toronto police superintendent who applied for the OPP job last fall when qualifications were lowered two days after the initial posting, allowing someone of his mid-level rank into the running.
Ford has always denied any political interference in the appointment, which has been under investigation by provincial integrity commissioner J. David Wake following a complaint from the NDP.
Wake interviewed the premier late last week and previously questioned his chief of staff, Dean French, for more than two hours as part of the probe.
Taverner has been in limbo since requesting in December that his appointment be put on hold until the ethics investigation is completed. Jones said interim OPP commissioner Gary Couture will remain at the helm for now. The last full-time commissioner, Vince Hawkes, retired in the fall.
Policing experts, including former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, had repeatedly warned concerns about potential conflicts of interest would always linger if Taverner were to head the force, which can be called in to investigate any wrongdoing by government — as occurred under a previous Liberal government.
In that case, the OPP’s anti-rackets squad laid charges over deleted documents in the wake of the scandal over gas plants cancelled before the 2011 election. Former premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff, David Livingston, was criminally charged, convicted at trial and served five weeks in jail.https://www.toronto.com/news-story/9211 ... missioner/https://www.thestar.com/politics/provin ... -says.html