Doug Ford has decided not to say which Ottawa-area PC MPPs helped secure a spot on Ottawa's police board for a party donor, who later attend the so-called Freedom Convoy protest.
But well-placed sources say his Ottawa Police Services Board appointment had the backing of two of the Progressive Conservatives' local incumbents. One of them, according to those sources, was Jeremy Roberts.
Robert Swaita, an Ottawa businessman with deep Conservative connections, was one of three people appointed to the seven-member board by the Ford government.
The next day, March 3, Ford said he would find out which of his MPPs recommended Swaita for the board, as local government members typically do.
The PCs' four Ottawa-area MPPs at the time were: Roberts, Lisa MacLeod, Goldie Ghamari and Merrilee Fullerton.
Ford has yet to say who recommended Swaita. If he did look into it, he isn't willing to talk about it.
"You know something, I just honestly couldn't tell you off the top of (my) head," Ford said when asked at an unrelated media event last week. "We have some great people on that board right now. They're serving the people of Ottawa."
Ford dodged again when pressed a second time.
"Well, again, I don't know who it was," he said, adding with a chuckle that voters care more about issues like jobs and affordable housing.
Ford's spokesperson, Ivana Yelich, also refused to touch on the topic. "I have no idea," she said shortly after. "It was a month ago."
QPB asked the PC campaign's communications team again by email last Thursday but was not sent a response before this story was published. Last Wednesday, QPB called and asked Swaita who recommended his appointment, but he politely declined to discuss the matter any further.
MacLeod, Fullerton and Ghamari have denied making the Swaita recommendation.
The day after the provincial appointees left the board, Roberts dodged when asked if he played a role in Swaita's appointment.
"It's going to be good that we've got some renewal to the board and some new people coming on," Roberts said on March 3. On Tuesday, QPB called Roberts' cellphone, left him a voice mail and texted him, but did not hear back from him before publishing this story.
Two sources with ties to Swaita say Roberts recommended him for the board. QPB agreed to keep private the identity of the sources who shared information they weren't supposed to.
Roberts and Swaita have strong political ties. Swaita has donated $5,080 to Roberts' riding association and he provided committee testimony in favour of Roberts' Bill 214. They've both worked with David Gibbons, the current president of the Conservative Party of Canada's Ottawa South riding association, as well.
When QPB reported Swaita attended the Freedom Convoy protest, we noted that sources "suspected Swaita was appointed at MacLeod's recommendation." MacLeod tweeted hours later that she "did not make this recommendation." We've since clarified that story to reflect that she was suspected of being involved in that recommendation.
QPB has since learned more about MacLeod's role. As the PCs' seniormost Ottawa-area MPP in Ontario's last parliament and a cabinet minister, she approved of the recommendation to cabinet, according to one source with ties to Swaita and another from within the government.
Lawyer Daljit Nirman was MacLeod's recommendation, according to a fourth source, who has ties with MacLeod, and another source who'd said MacLeod backed Swaita's appointment.
Nirman didn't return a call or email from QPB last Thursday.
The PC government's third appointee, who resigned alongside Swaita and Nirman, was Dr. Beverly Johnson. Sources say she was Fullerton's recommendation. Like Johnson, Fullerton practised as a family physician in Kanata before entering politics.
Every municipal police service in Ontario is overseen by a services board. The board appoints the chief of police. Boards are also responsible for setting management policies, judging the chief of police's performance and working with the police chief to set the force's objectives and priorities. Provincewide, just under half of all police services board members are provincial government appointees.
Applicants apply through the Public Appointments Secretariat's online portal to become provincially appointed police board members. They must meet basic criteria, like living in Ontario and speaking English or French. Sylvia Jones, the solicitor general who is running for re-election for the PCs, told QP Briefing in March that applicants the government is interested in for police board positions are then subjected to a "very onerous interview process."
Local MPPs tend to be tapped for recommendations for who to appoint and cabinet ultimately decides on provincial appointees and makes them via order-in-council.
Swaita was appointed on Mar. 5, 2020.
It's the all-party standing committee on government agencies' job to review appointments like Swaita's. PC MPPs blocked Swaita from appearing before the committee in early 2020. NDP MPP Marit Stiles, who's running to be re-elected in Davenport, asked the PC members to explain why they wouldn't allow Swaita to appear, but they wouldn't say.
At another committee meeting a week earlier, Stiles criticized the PC government members for employing similar tactics to block other police board appointees from appearing before the committee.
"These are really important responsibilities, and I think, as we've seen repeatedly under this government, we’ve seen connections — strong, partisan, political connections — which I think the people of this province have reason to be concerned about," Stiles said, adding, "it's really doing (Ontarians) a disservice by impeding a proper review."
Joel Harden, the NDP's incumbent for Ottawa Centre, said in a statement last Wednesday that "Ford must come clean and explain to Ontarians who exactly from his inner circle recommended Swaita, and why Ford agreed with that recommendation."
Ford has said he doesn't have time to personally vet all of his government's thousands of appointees.
Liberal Orléans incumbent Stephen Blais said voters "deserve transparency" from the PC Leader. "What is Doug Ford hiding?" Blaise said in a statement.
The PCs have often accused the previous Liberal government of running a patronage "gravy train." Both parties have appointed some failed candidates to agencies, boards and commissions — though the PCs have done so more often.
Roberts is the incumbent in Ottawa West—Nepean. He won the riding by 175 votes in the last election, which was the slimmest victory of any elected PC MPP. A recent poll of the riding by Mainstreet Research shows he has a slightly larger lead this time around, but it'll still likely be close.
The NDP has said it's trying hard to flip seats it lost in close races in 2018. Sources told Global the party plans to pour extra funding into its effort to unseat Roberts in Ottawa West—Nepean. A CBC analysis pegs the riding as a bellwether for a second Ford majority.
MacLeod is the incumbent in Nepean, which she has held since 2006. She faces a challenge from young Liberal candidate Tyler Watt, a nurse who's taken the Ford government to task on Twitter, helping him gain 35,000 followers. A polling projection shows MacLeod is holding onto the lead, but the area has been red in the past. The PC incumbent was under fire earlier this month after the NDP revealed she and other PCs had taken "allowances" of many thousands of dollars from riding associations.
The Ford government announced its new appointees to the Ottawa police board three weeks after the old members quit. The new picks were apolitical. Swaita, on the other hand, donated upwards of $8,700 to PC causes since 2015, Elections Ontario data shows.
The Ottawa Police Services Board controversy was the second time the PC government moved quickly to distance itself from a convoy connection. The chief spokesperson for the solicitor general, the cabinet member responsible for policing, was quickly dismissed after she donated to the convoy.
After QP Briefing revealed Swaita had attended the convoy protest, he said in a statement he was there as a private citizen and police board member in order to "better understand the growing frustration that was being felt by many Canadians."