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EDITORIAL: It’s not your private police force, Mr. Ford (Spring 2019)

April 23rd, 2019 · No Comments

When an Ontario public servant decided to leak the province’s secret plan to overhaul the healthcare system to the media, Premier Doug Ford shifted into attack mode and demanded  an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). It seems the Premier has an affinity for calling in the police, in the hopes they’ll do his bidding. The leak story is, as Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, and former Minister of Education stated, “Exhibit A of why Ron Taverner cannot be OPP commissioner… the OPP is not the Premier’s private police force.”

What would the OPP investigation on the leak have looked like if it were? The leak publicized evidence that the government was planning to eliminate many health agencies and create a “super agency” as part of its overhaul of Ontario’s healthcare system. The unnamed public servant deemed responsible for it has been fired.

If Taverner was running the OPP, would the Premier being cruising around Ontario in a $50,000 van, complete with a leather Lazy-Boy and Blue-Ray? That was what he asked for, but with Brad Blair running the police force, the premier didn’t get his way.

In the late fall, when Ford hatched the plan to hire Taverner the Premier’s office faced a major obstacle: Taverner was not qualified. The process needed re-engineering or “rigging” as critics would come to describe it. Enter Dean French, who worked with Cabinet Secretary Steve Orsini, Ontario’s top civil servant, to lower the bar on behalf of the Premier’s friend. Orsini was on the hiring committee and was integral to seeing Ford’s plan come to fruition. When the public announcement about  Taverner getting the job was met with outrage, Ford strangely tried to distance himself and claim that the process had been “independent.” It was at this is the point that Orsini lost his stomach for the sham. According to Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake’s report on the matter, Orsini gave an ultimatum to the Premier: “If you feel that the installation [Taverner’s] must proceed, it is with 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…”

In the end, Orsini retired abruptly after 27 years of serving provincial governments of every stripe. Brad Blair was fired because he revealed what Ford was up to, and is now suing Ford for $5 million for wrongful dismal and defamation. Taverner withdrew his name from consideration in the face of the lingering public outcry over his relationship to the Premier and the process by witched he managed to leap frog ahead of other more qualified candidates including Blair. 

The lesson, which is evidently lost on Ford, is that democratic countries need to put a wall between government and police, lest police feel beholden to those in authority. Police become the enforcers for the political will of those in power and people stop believing that laws will be enforced without favour.

The Premier would eventually come to describe decisions like hiring Taverner are a result of him talking to “thousands of people across the province.” It’s not clear who these people are or when these consultations happened, but he claims it included the OPP’s “front line officers,” who were apparently clamouring for Ford to hire Taverner. How would these officers would even have know of Taverner existence? This refrain that he is taking his cues “from the people” is something Ford loves to invoke. He uses it to justify acts of autocracy like slashing the size of city council, forcing a one-sex fits all autism strategy, or stealing the Toronto subway system. It’s a faux democracy that’s looking more and more like a dictatorship.

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