IN THE annals of journalism, the early days of 2019 will go down as unusually busy and, depending on outcomes, potentially spectacular.
Three fascinating cases of alleged government wrongdoing at one time are unfolding with results that could affect election outcomes if not sink administrations early.
Every news junkie is acutely attuned to the drama unfolding in Ottawa where one key minister has quit to support another’s resignation based on allegations of undue pressure in a criminal proceeding. Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott say one thing. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his inner circle say quite another, supported so far by the rest of the cabinet.
Trudeau offered an opaque explanation Thursday that failed to snap a tight lid on things. But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s call for Trudeau to resign is way ahead of events that are still unfolding.
Testimony this week by key civil servants support the government’s contention that undue pressure was not applied to then attorney-general Wilson-Raybould to seek legal relief for a major Canadian corporation facing bribery charges. Rather, the public interest was at the heart of attempts to get the minister to intervene. With thousands of jobs, families, suppliers and pensions in a variety of Canadian communities potentially at stake, it is not hard to imagine the lengths to which the government would go to ensure the minister considered very carefully the impact of her decision — as she is required to do under law.
Incidentally, if Wilson-Raybould had simply accepted a cabinet move to Indigenous Affairs, none of this would have happened. She says she rejected it because it would mean utilizing the Indian Act that she abhors. But Trudeau pledged in 2017 to eliminate it. Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous lawyer, would have enjoyed the PM’s strong support in helping to achieve that end.
South of the border, President Donald Trump’s former attorney and fix-it man is singing like a canary before various justice committees to tell his side of the sordid story of reported payoffs to a porn star, while powerful public legal departments sniff out mounting evidence of Russian influence in the outcome of the election that put the supremely unlikely president in office.
Democrats are taking every measure they can to unearth the facts that could result in impeachment proceedings against Trump (oddly, the third in recent times) and criminal charges against his family. Only in the movies, except for the White House.
These events are so compelling that they tend to overshadow another blatant case of government malfeasance. That is, the Ontario government of Doug Ford has been trying to get a pal of his installed as provincial police commissioner. To say that Ford has been brazen in his efforts is an understatement of some proportions.
Ron Taverner was a mid-level Toronto police superintendent and a regular guest at the Ford family barbecues in Etobicoke. Among his regular tasks was to ensure brother Rob Ford, then mayor of Toronto, got home in one piece after one of many nights of imbibing.
Among all the cops in all of Ontario, Taverner was chosen to head the OPP. But the selection process initially rejected Taverner because he didn’t meet the requirements. So the requirements were downgraded to fit his resume. The premier has admitted this. Ford Nation had another member in power, or so it thought.
The integrity commissioner was asked by the opposition NDP to launch an investigation which put the appointment of Taverner on hold. Meanwhile, deputy and interim OPP commissioner Brad Blair was so incensed by this abuse of power that he asked the courts to get Ombudsman Paul Dubé to investigate.
Blair’s case has a number of problems. He wanted the commissioner’s job and didn’t get it when Taverner did. In order to support his allegation, Blair produced a number of internal police documents. This led to a government investigation that in turn led March 4 to the firing of Blair, which he is challenging legally.
Blair incensed Ford by revealing that the premier has particular ideas about getting around in style. Ford laid out his own specifications for a custom Mercedes police van, built by a company he chose, and fitted with a 32-inch television with Blu-Ray player, a mini-fridge, reclining leather sofa bench and wide black leather captain’s chairs and that it be purchased by the OPP off the books. Big man, big van one supposes.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones claimed the government had nothing to do with Blair’s firing, that the decision was taken by her deputy minister, Mario Di Tommaso.
Di Tommaso, a public servant, may indeed provide insulation from the appearance of political interference. But he also has a longstanding relationship with the Fords and formed a majority on the three-person OPP commissioner interview committee with Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French. He also happens to have been Taverner’s boss at Toronto police 23 Division. All in the family. Ford Nation picked Taverner and had Blair fired.
By Wednesday it was all too much for Taverner who withdrew his name from consideration “to protect the integrity of rank-and-file police officers given the controversy surrounding my appointment.” This led Ford to absurdly blame the “police-hating” NDP.
Ford family loyalists have a habit of getting plum appointments.
Ford’s new man in Washington is Ian Todd, former chief of staff to several Stephen Harper federal ministers and lately a partner in a public relations firm. So, not a career diplomat.
Ford fired former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s U.S. representative Monique Smith at his first opportunity. Todd will be paid $350,000 — $75,000 more than Smith.
Ford family lawyer Gavin Tighe got a $667,000 government contract with the Public Accountants Council. Earlier, Tighe represented the premier’s late brother, Rob Ford, when he was sued on two occasions.
The premier denies any wrongdoing in the Taverner affair, apparently oblivious to the fact that any investigation the OPP might be called upon to conduct into the Ontario government or the Progressive Conservative party would be rendered suspect with Taverner in charge.
Presumably, the integrity commissioner continues to look into the Ford fishy bowl.
Meanwhile, a new OPP commissioner must be named soon to tackle the force’s low morale, dysfunctional headquarters and disturbing suicides among members of the rank and file. That can’t come too soon but it can and must be done without political meddling by a premier who makes a bad habit of it.
(Originally published March 9, 2019)
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.