Ethics watchdog clears Ford but finds Taverner hiring ‘troubling’

By Sabrina Nanji March 21, 2019

Premier Doug Ford did not breach the integrity act in the recruitment of his personal friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner — but the process was “troubling,” says the ethics watchdog.

“I found that the Premier stayed at arm’s length from the recruitment process and that he believed it to be independent,” Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake says in a 102-page investigation report released Wednesday. “However, I found that there were some troubling aspects of the recruitment process and ultimately made the finding that the process was flawed.”

Wake’s probe was prompted by an NDP complaint about possible political interference in the controversial, now-defunct Taverner appointment.

The commissioner recommended the government, and all members of the legislature, establish an appointment process that is “independent, transparent and readily activated with predetermined criteria and membership on the selection committee.”

He said a fairer process is important “given the sensitivity of the relationship between the government and the police … and particularly when the appointee is a friend of the premier and the position is that of the Commissioner of the OPP.”

Ford called the report a “complete vindication” and told reporters he still “absolutely” believes the process was independent.

“It is now clear that, as we said from the beginning, this complaint was frivolous and without merit,” he said in a statement. “As the Integrity Commissioner added, the complaints coming from the NDP and the Liberals based on media reports were found to be ‘speculative and unsupported by the evidence received at this inquiry.’”

According to testimony by Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, he and the premier recommended Taverner for the OPP job to then-cabinet secretary Steve Orsini. (French later backtracked and said he could only speak for himself, not the premier.)

Orsini was on the hiring panel that selected Taverner and, according to Wake’s report, first reached out to Taverner over LinkedIn on October 17, before the job was posted.

Orsini communicated with French via text message during recruitment process
Wake said the “most disconcerting” aspect was text message exchanges between French and Orsini with progress updates throughout the process.

“There seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement 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 says.

Wake provided one exchange from a November 9 meeting where a shortlist of candidates was considered.

“We just went through the applications for the OPP Commissioner. Ron Taverner has made the shortlist for interviews. He will be interviewed on Monday. I will keep you posted every step of the way,” Orsini texted.

“Wonderful. Best news all day,” French replied.

“I need to work harder to be able to give more good news!!” Orsini said.

“LOL…you are working hard enough already !” French said.

Orsini resigned over Taverner drama, report reveals
In December after Taverner said he wanted his swearing-in to be delayed, Orsini prepared an order in council to appoint an interim commissioner, but the premier would not sign it — leading the public servant of 27 years to resign.

Orisini told the premier “circumstances since the recruitment was completed have called the
appointment into question” and advised Taverner withdraw pending Wake’s review.

“If you feel that the installation must proceed, it is with a heavy heart that I recommend the appointment of a new Secretary of the Cabinet who will fully support your decisions as the Premier of Ontario,” Orsini wrote to Ford.

The premier did not sign the OIC, saying he was “caught off guard” and wanted to consult his team. That’s when Orsini sent in his resignation letter, saying he understood “the Premier was not prepared to sign the OIC regarding the OPP commissioner.”

Taverner was not on the original shortlist of candidates
Former deputy minister Matt Torigian testified in a conversation with Sal Badali of the third-party recruitment firm Odgers Berdtson that Taverner was not initially shortlisted. Badali acknowledged Taverner would get an interview despite not meeting the qualifications — which were later lowered, allowing Taverner to apply.

Torigian also testified Orsini confided to him he felt pressured to hire “a friend of the Ford’s” and mentioned Taverner and another name that Wake’s report does not name, saying it is “unrelated to this matter.”

Among other bombshell nuggets, Wake’s report notes Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs wrote the letter Taverner sent to the solicitor general requesting his swearing-in be delayed. (Froggatt is a key Ford and PC campaign operative who led the premier’s transition team and is currently chair of the party’s election readiness committee. He’s been in the headlines this week because expelled MPP Randy Hillier charged him and French as the backroom operatives that orchestrated his ejection. The Tories deny the allegations.)

Ford was represented by longtime family counsel Gavin Tighe during his interviews with Wake’s office. Tighe was given a patronage appointment on the Public Accountants Council in October.

Taverner took himself out of the running for the position amid mounting criticism, and the PCs have already appointed his replacement, Thomas Carrique, who’s scheduled to swear the oath and assume command of the provincial force April 8.