OPP looking into allegations of ‘illegal’ lobbying of Premier Doug Ford’s office
|Toronto Star 04 Apr 2019 at 14:10|
The Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad is looking into allegations of “illegal and unregistered lobbying” of Premier Doug Ford’s office in the first step toward a formal investigation.
Independent MPP Randy Hillier, who was ejected from the Progressive Conservative caucus last month, first raised concerns about the alleged lobbying and is in discussions with integrity commissioner J. David Wake about an ethics probe.
NDP MPP Gilles Bisson stunned the house Thursday when he revealed that the New Democrats have been told by the OPP that detectives “will review the allegations.”
In a March 21 letter to the NDP, the OPP confirmed it was following up.
OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne said in an email to the Star on Thursday that “that the OPP’s anti-rackets branch is currently reviewing the information brought forward to determine if an investigation will be conducted.”
Bisson urged Ford to co-operate with the police and “instruct your staff that all emails, text messages and any relevant records are to be maintained while the OPP do their work.
“Will you promise that no records will be destroyed in your office?” the Timmins MPP asked the premier.
After Bisson’s bombshell in the house, a defiant Ford stressed there was no substance to Hillier’s claims.
“There’s no illegal lobbying going on. It’s very simple: No one can influence our team. No one can buy our team. Very simply, if you want to talk to the government, call me on my cellphone,” said the premier, who routinely gives out his personal number to members of the public.
Government house leader Todd Smith echoed that, saying Ford is “the most accessible premier that this province has ever seen.”
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Smith said the onus is on Hillier to provide some evidence. “I don’t think there’s any reason to take it seriously. It’s a routine thing that happens when there’s accusations made. We haven’t seen any evidence,” he said.
“I worry that Randy’s been wasting his own time, Randy’s been wasting our time, he’s been wasting your time and now he’s wasting the OPP’s time.”
Smith said there is no comparison to the OPP’s probes of previous Liberal governments, one of which led to a criminal conviction and jail time for a premier’s chief of staff.
“In those cases, there was evidence,” Smith said. “In this case, we haven’t seen anything.”
But with Det. Staff Sgt. Sean Chatland and Det.-Insp. Anne Goodwin, director of the OPP anti-rackets branch, involved, the matter has traction at Queen’s Park.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the OPP letter “is the first step to them saying there’s going to be a possible investigation.
“There must be some credibility behind Mr. Hillier’s allegations — otherwise, why would the OPP bother?” said Schreiner, noting the case “absolutely” underscores why it was a good thing Ford’s friend, Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, withdrew his controversial bid to become OPP commissioner.
“I’ve been saying all along that it’s completely inappropriate for the premier to hire one of his best family friends to be the OPP commissioner,” Schreiner said.
Taverner, a 72-year-old Toronto police veteran and Ford pal, pulled his name from consideration on March 6 amid an ethics probe that would ultimately clear the premier of wrongdoing in the attempted appointment.
York Regional Police deputy Chief Thomas Carrique was then appointed the new commissioner on March 11.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the OPP has no choice but to look into “Mr. Hillier’s very serious allegations” that some lobbyists have a free rein in Ford’s office.
“The OPP has an obligation to take that seriously,” said Fraser.
Hillier, who was not available for comment Thursday, was initially suspended from caucus one day after a private meeting with Ford where he outlined some of his concerns.
The maverick Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP had not yet expanded upon his accusations of illegal lobbying of Ford’s office.