TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been interviewed by the integrity commissioner as part of an investigation into the appointment of Ford family friend Ron Taverner to the province’s top policing job.
A government source confirmed the interview occurred “late last week,” with commissioner J. David Wake investigating if Ford broke conflict of interest rules while awarding Taverner the post of OPP commissioner.
The news comes as the public got the first detailed look at the premier’s defence of his conduct and a timeline of events and key players involved. The defence was outlined in documents filed in court on Monday and made public on Tuesday.
The documents were filed by fired deputy OPP commissioner Brad Blair in his lawsuit, which attempts to force the province’s ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s hiring. In a rare move, Blair went public with his concerns in December. He was fired from the force on Monday.
The government says he was dismissed for disclosing confidential information, but in his court filings Blair said he believes he is being punished for speaking out.
Wake’s investigation centres on a complaint filed by NDP MPP Kevin Yarde, who asserts that Ford broke conflict of interest rules by failing to recuse himself from the final cabinet decision to appoint Taverner. Yarde also raised concerns about facts surrounding the application process that were first reported by iPolitics.
Two days after the job posting for the commissioner position was made public, it was changed to remove any requirements that candidates hold a minimum rank. Had those rank requirements stayed in place, Taverner would not have been eligible to apply for the job.
In his nine-page letter to Wake, the premier strongly defends not only his involvement in the process, but also the actions of senior civil servants and senior staff in the premier’s office who were involved in the OPP commissioner hiring process.
The letter was sent to Wake on Dec. 14, 2018. That date has become significant in this case, as on the same day, Cabinet Secretary Steve Orsini — who was also involved in Taverner’s hiring — announced his surprise retirement, Blair announced he would go to court to try to force the ombudsman to investigate, and the next day the government announced Taverner’s appointment was delayed pending Wake’s investigation.
“I deny categorically the allegations being made or implied ” by Yarde, Ford writes in his letter.
“I was not directly involved in the recruitment process,” Ford writes, even though he and the rest of cabinet signed off on Taverner’s appointment.Ford on why he didn’t recuse himself from cabinet
In his letter to the integrity commissioner, the premier explains that he didn’t think he needed to recuse himself from the cabinet decision because he was signing off on a recommendation from the civil servants and head-hunting firm who first recommended Taverner get the top job.
“There was a single recommendation that was endorsed by cabinet as a collective,” Ford writes.
He also told Wake that he “ensured” that his cabinet was “aware of my personal friendship with Mr. Taverner.”
Ford also argues that, because cabinet met as a “collective,” there was no need for him to follow the section of the integrity act that says a cabinet minister with a conflict should appoint someone else to make the decision for them.
However he notes that Wake may not agree with his decision.
“I respect that as the integrity commissioner, you may have a view as to whether I made the correct choice to remain at this cabinet meeting,” Ford said. “I will ultimately respect your advice on this matter, but would respectfully submit that my attendance must be considered in light of the overall recruitment process.”Taverner selection made with ‘no political interference or direction’: Ford
The premier acknowledged that the first plan that the government put together for hiring the next OPP commissioner included his own chief of staff, Dean French, sitting on the final interview panel.
This information was first reported by Blair in his letter to Ombudsman Paul Dubé. In that letter, Blair said that he was told French would be one of four people interviewing him in the second round interview. However, when he arrived for the interview on Nov. 20, 2018, he was told French would no longer be joining them.
In his letter, the premier explains why that change was made: “Mr. French recused himself from the candidate interviews to both protect the integrity of the recruitment process and also ensure that any recommendation to the minister and cabinet was based on the professional opinion of the public service.”
Ford notes that because the initial plan was for French to take part in the interviews, he was “in receipt of updates on the recruitment process.”
The presence of another person on the hiring committee has also raised questions from the opposition. Ford’s deputy minister of community safety, Mario Di Tommaso, was Taverner’s boss at the Toronto Police Service before he was appointed deputy minister in October.
Di Tommaso joined the department on the day the first job posting was published online and was involved in the change in requirements for applicants.
The premier also tells Wake in the letter that it is “standard practice” for the deputy minister of the responsible department to take part in interviews. And, he adds, it is “not at all uncommon” for the deputy minister to know the candidates.
“My understanding is that including those with a previous direct reporting relationship can often provide a higher level of assurance of a candidate’s competencies and qualifications,” the premier writes.
Ford also notes that the government hired executive search firm Odgers Berndtson to oversee the hiring process and to act as “third-party validation” of the process.
“I believe this fact alone refutes any allegation that there was an orchestrated plan to appoint Mr. Taverner,” Ford said about the involvement of Odgers Berndtson.
Ultimately Orsini, Di Tommaso and Sal Badali of Odgers Berndtson conducted the final interviews for the position.
“The second panel unanimously ranked Mr. Don Taverner as the top candidate for consideration,” Ford writes. “This selection was made with no political interference or direction.”Change in job requirements made in ‘good faith’: Ford
In his letter to Wake, the premier also explains the change in job requirements for the OPP commissioner job.
The premier repeated his previous statement that the change was made to broaden the pool of applicants and he asserts that he has no knowledge of involvement from his office in this change.
“I would agree that some of the allegations that have arisen could have been avoided had the ranking requirements been removed from the job ad before its original posting,” Ford writes.
“However, I believe the change was made in a good faith effort to ensure a broad and inclusive recruitment process and provides no evidence of any improper activity by me, my office or any individual working on my behalf.
“I am not aware of any consultation with my office on this change,” Ford said.
He also notes that three previous police chief job postings, managed by Odgers Berndtson also didn’t include a minimum rank requirement. He said that applies for postings in Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Toronto.
“I reject any assertion that this change was made to specifically permit Mr. Taverner’s application for the position,” Ford said.
The integrity commissioner does not comment on ongoing investigations and has not said when the investigation is expected to conclude.https://ipolitics.ca/2019/03/06/ford-in ... ner-probe/