Longtime Ford family friend Ron Taverner may have walked away from his potential appointment to be the Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Wednesday night, but the government isn't willing to say there were any problems in the process.
That was the message from Community Safety and Corrections Minister Sylvia Jones, who told reporters following question period Thursday that the government wouldn't do anything different next time.
Asked whether her deputy minister would have a role in picking the next OPP commissioner, she gave him an endorsement.
"Mario Di Tommaso is my deputy for public safety and we will continue to work together," the minister said of the beleaguered civil servant who was Taverner's former boss and became embroiled in alleged conflicts of interest throughout the hiring process. When asked again, she said it would be "completely appropriate" for him to have a role in the next hiring process.
Asked if Premier Doug Ford could appoint a friend of his to the top job of the police force that oversees Queen's Park matters, she left the possibility open. "I am not going to presuppose who the next nominee will be," she added, unapologetically.
Asked whether the government did anything wrong in the process, she offered up a 'sorry, not sorry.' "I believe that the process was absolutely appropriate."
Jones instead claimed that the responsibility for the months-long controversy rested with the opposition NDP. "To take someone with a 50-plus-year service record and drag him through the mud..." she began, repeating a talking point that has seen greater play from the PCs over the past two days before being cut off by a reporter. "What the NDP did was completely inappropriate," she added. "The NDP chose to sully an individual's reputation," she went on, calling it "offensive."
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath scoffed at the notion, arguing the NDP was appropriately fighting for important principles, "What we've done is fought for the independent of the Ontario Provincial Police."
She added that the next hiring process needs to be different. "There needs to be a completely independent process. It can't have Doug Ford's fingerprints all over it, it can't be a friend of the family, it can't be someone who has to have the qualification reduced just so they can qualify," she said. She rejected the idea raised by Jones that the premier has many friends and thus it's not surprising that someone he know was initially named to the role.
"I'm disgusted by that response," Horwath said, reiterating her call for a public inquiry.
Liberal Leader John Fraser reacted with disbelief when informed of the government's messaging on the issue. "The minister doesn't get it," he said of Jones, adding a call for Di Tommaso to answer questions for her role. "We have a separation between police and our politicians," he added. "Twenty years ago, we had Ipperwash. And that interference led to something very tragic," he added, laying out the stakes for the principle of police independence by referencing the death of Dudley George.
Jones declined to put a timeline on when the next commissioner will be chosen.