Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake recently indicated that he could investigate the Ford government’s appointments of people with whom the Premier’s former chief of staff, Dean French, had some form of association or, indeed, all previous appointments. (Mr. French resigned as the premier’s chief of staff after news of appointments initially broke.) However, Mr. Wake also stated that he could report only to the premier and not release his findings to the public. Yet the public has an interest in such cases, perhaps particularly one that appears to be so extensive, and not only in the appointments themselves, but also in how Mr. French could get away with so much under the premier’s watchful eye. Or was the premier’s eye so watchful? The public has a right to know that, too.
The idea that the premier is the one who can decide whether the Iintegrity commissioner’s report is released is contrary to the kind of transparent, open government for which an integrity commissioner is meant to be a safeguard. It is also inconsistent with the status of the commissioner as an officer of the Legislative Assembly. Furthermore, section 130 of the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 (“Public Service Act”) permits the Integrity Commissioner to make a report public.
In March 2019, the integrity commissioner released a report (“Re Ford Report”) about the premier’s alleged involvement in the appointment of Ron Taverner as commissioner of the OPP. The complaints leading to the investigation were about the premier’s conduct and thus were subject to the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994, which applies to MPPs. Mr. Wake found that the premier had acted at arm’s length and did not breach the Members’ Integrity Act, but also that the process of selecting the OPP commissioner had some “troubling aspects … that may have led, perhaps unintentionally, to a preference being given to one candidate” and recommended the establishment of a transparent process. (The commissioner found insufficient grounds to investigate a complaint alleging Premier Ford’s involvement in the dismissal of Brad Blair as the deputy commissioner.)
As a result of discovering that a number of appointments made by the Ford government involved people who had ties to Dean French, and who did not appear to be qualified for the positions, the interim Liberal Party leader requested the integrity commissioner to look into all the government’s appointments. The iIntegrity commissioner has accepted that he has jurisdiction to inquire into these appointments and others; this would also include the conduct of the premier’s former chief of staff. Public servants are in part defined by section 47 of the Public Service Act as persons employed to work in a minister’s office. Under section 14 of O. Reg. 382/07, dealing with conflicts of interest, the premier’s chief of staff holds a “designated senior position” as a public servant.
According to Global News (and other outlets), “commissioner J. David Wake says in a letter to Fraser that if he investigates the conduct of Dean French – who resigned as chief of staff last month – under the Public Service of Ontario Act, he has no legal authority to release any conclusions publicly.” The commissioner stated that he could notify only Premier Doug Ford of the results of any review. (Mr...