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Premier Ford says new leadership needed for provincial police service

Last Updated Mar 7, 2019 at 4:14 pm EDT

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is seen in the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on Thursday, March 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario’s provincial police need new leadership to fix systemic problems within their ranks and the province is committed to bringing about that change, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday after a close friend of his announced he’d no longer take the top job at the force.

Ford thanked Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner for putting his name forward for role of the OPP commissioner, and chided the Opposition for what he said were personal attacks on the veteran officer since his appointment was announced in November.

“Our objective has been new leadership up at the OPP to fix the systemic problems that we’re hearing non-stop from the front-line OPP officers,” Ford said, without detailing what those issues were.

“We need a new vision for the OPP. One that puts the front-line officers and the safety of the people of Ontario above everything else. Bringing about this change at OPP will require new leadership.”

Taverner said late Wednesday that he would no longer take the commissioner job given the controversy surrounding his appointment, which has included accusations of political interference.

The 72-year-old initially did not meet the criteria listed for the commissioner position and the government has admitted it lowered the requirements to attract a wider range of candidates. His installation into the post had been hold as the province’s integrity commissioner probed his hiring.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the selection process for the next OPP commissioner needs to be beyond reproach given the circumstances that surrounded Taverner’s hiring.

“It needs to be a completely independent process,” she said. “It can’t have Doug Ford’s fingerprints all over it. It can’t be a friend of the family. It can’t be somebody who has to have the qualifications reduced just so that they can qualify. It has to be completely separate from the government.”

Horwath also denied that the NDP did anything to hurt Taverner’s reputation as it raised questions about his appointment.

“All we’ve done is said he has bad choice in friends,” she said.

Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones defended the process by which Taverner was selected and said the government did nothing wrong. She would not comment on the process to select the next commissioner or what that person’s qualifications would have to be.

“I’m not going to presuppose who the next commissioner is,” she said.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser praised Taverner for withdrawing from consideration for the commissioner’s job. He said the government should acknowledge that the process that led to Taverner’s selection “eroded trust” in the premier’s office and the OPP.

“We must have a separation between police and the premier’s office and our politicians,” he said.