Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday that he was “absolutely not” involved in the appointment of a family friend to the top job at the provincial police force.
Critics have been calling for an investigation into the hiring of Ron Taverner as the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, but Ford said the selection process was a fair one.
When asked if he was involved in Taverner’s appointment, Ford was firm.
“Absolutely not,” he told reporters at the legislature. “It went through a transparent process.”
When a reporter suggested he is supposed to recuse himself from the process when there is a conflict of interest, Ford asked incredulously, “Recuse myself from what?”
“I go back to the three-person panel,” he said. “I had zero influence, and no matter who it was I would have accepted.”
— Alfredo Colangelo (@CityAlfredo) December 4, 2018
The premier’s comments came after his community safety minister said qualification requirements for the job were changed partway through the hiring process to broaden the pool of applicants for the post.
The original commissioner job posting required candidates to have a rank of deputy police chief or higher, or assistant commissioner or higher, in a major police service — a threshold 72-year-old Taverner, a superintendent with Toronto police, did not meet.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it was shocking that the hiring process was changed and demanded an independent investigation into Taverner’s appointment.
“It’s all too convenient to have a good friend of the premier’s suddenly be able to qualify and then be appointed in a process that is obviously got a lot of challenges,” she said. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire. That’s why we’re having the integrity commissioner to have a look at what’s gone on here.”
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said the hiring firm in charge of the process to hire the new OPP commissioner made the decision to change the requirements. Taverner was a qualified candidate with decades of experience in policing, she added.
“We wanted to make sure that the best person to head our OPP was going to apply,” she said. “The hiring firm made that decision and it’s been done.”
Jones said government ministers accepted the unanimous recommendation of the hiring committee.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the matter needs to be investigated and said Ford must be open about the process that was used to hire Taverner.
“Not only should there not be a conflict, just the appearance of a conflict diminishes both of their offices so they have to address that,” he said.
Advocacy group Democracy Watch has also asked the integrity commissioner to probe the hiring process.
“Premier Ford taking part in any way in any step of Mr. Taverner’s appointment process raises concerns about violations of fundamental principles of democratic good government,” said Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher.
Taverner, currently the unit commander of three divisions within the Toronto Police Service, is set to start in his new job on Dec. 17.
He takes over from Brad Blair, who held the commissioner’s post on an interim basis after the retirement of Vince Hawkes in November.
Original job posting requires applicant to be “at the rank of Deputy Police Chief or higher, or Assistant Commissioner or higher in a major police service.”
Updated job posting removes requirement for the applicant to be “at the rank of Deputy Police Chief or higher, or Assistant Commissioner or higher in a major police service.”
With files from News Staff