Ford did not break rules when Taverner hired: integrity commissioner

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TORONTO — The recruitment process that led to the appointment of a close friend of Doug Ford as Ontario’s top cop was “flawed,” the province’s integrity commissioner has found, but the premier himself didn’t break any rules.

In a report issued Wednesday, J. David Wake said Ford stayed at arm’s length from the process that resulted in Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner being appointed head of the Ontario Provincial Police last fall.

“A recruitment process was put in place which, unfortunately, I have found to have been flawed through no actions of Premier Ford,” Wake wrote. “I find that Premier Ford’s conduct was not improper in relation to the recruitment process and that he could not have had any improper purpose in the approval of the selection committee’s recommendation on the basis of what he knew at the time.”

Taverner, 72, withdrew his name from consideration for the job earlier this month, citing the controversy around his appointment and the need to protect the integrity of front-line OPP officers.

His appointment had set off accusations of political interference in the hiring process. Wake’s investigation was launched after complaints from opposition politicians over the appointment.

Ford said the findings totally clear him and his team.

“The integrity commissioner’s report and its findings represents a complete — I repeat — a complete vindication for our government,” he said. “After three months of an investigation, the integrity commissioner found that we followed the letter of the law.”

Ford noted that previous OPP commissioners have been appointed without such long processes, and mused that he, perhaps, should have done the same.

“Maybe we should have just done what (former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty) did and appoint a great commissioner like Ron Taverner,” he said.

Taverner initially did not meet the criteria listed for the position and the government admitted it lowered the requirements to attract a wider range of candidates.

Steve Orsini, who was at the time the province’s top civil servant, told Wake that the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, called him to ask why the job posting was “so restrictive,” according to the report. But Wake concluded that a rank requirement was eliminated because a public servant incorrectly used information from a 2014 posting for the commissioner job.

Wake did raise concerns with communications between Orsini, who was part of the hiring panel, and French.

“What I found most disconcerting in all the evidence were the text messages from the secretary to Mr. French as to Mr. Taverner’s progress throughout the process,” Wake wrote. “There seemed to be a tacit acknowledgment by the secretary that Mr. French was rooting for Mr. Taverner’s success. Anyone examining these messages would have serious doubts as to the fairness of the process to the other candidates.”

Wake also listed factors that could have led “perhaps unintentionally” to a preference being given to Taverner, including that Orsini had reached out to Taverner before the commissioner position had been advertised, and the manner in which Taverner’s name had come up surrounding two other public sector jobs.

Ford told Wake that he approached Taverner in August 2018 about working at the Ontario Cannabis Store. An offer was made to Taverner on Aug. 17 for the position of president of community partnerships with an annual salary of $270,000.

Taverner ultimately declined the job, saying he was “getting cold feet,” Wake wrote, but that would have made Orsini aware that Ford thought highly of Taverner.

A month later, Matt Torigian, the deputy minister of community safety, announced he was leaving the position. Torigian told the integrity commissioner that Orsini confided in him that he felt pressured to hire “a friend of the Fords,” mentioning Taverner and another name.

Orsini denied that, but he did tell the integrity commissioner that he wanted to “move fairly quickly” with an appointment because he didn’t want the premier’s chief of staff to start “throwing ideas around” like Taverner. Orsini thought Taverner “would not be deputy material,” the report says.

It also notes that French initially told the integrity commissioner that both he and the premier recommended Taverner be considered for the top OPP job, but quickly backtracked.

“Yes, we both recommended that he be considered,” French said. “Actually, I – I should speak for myself. I recommended to Secretary Orsini that he be considered.”

Ford said that he continues to support French and that he believes he did nothing wrong during the Taverner hiring.

Wake said that given the sensitivity of the relationship between the government and the police, an independent process to hire the OPP commissioner must be created.

“There ought to be an established appointment process in place which is independent, transparent and readily activated with predetermined criteria and membership on the selection committee,” Wake said.

“I would encourage the government and all members of the legislature to consider the establishment of such a process and have it in place before the next appointment is required.”

Days after Taverner withdrew from the role, the government named Thomas Carrique, a deputy chief for York Regional Police, as the next commissioner of the OPP.

NDP legislator Taras Natyshak said the report raises disturbing issues about the involvement of Ford’s office that should be probed with a full public inquiry. Ford’s insistence that he is vindicated is wrong, he added.

“The premier obviously didn’t read this report,” he said. “The questions that still remain … the broader public need to have answered.”

Shawn Jeffords and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press