Toronto

As OPP controversy grows, Doug Ford dodges the legislature

Premier Doug Ford was absent from question period for the fourth day in a row on Wednesday as the opposition demanded answers on the firing of a senior OPP officer.

Since appointing Ron Taverner to lead OPP, Ford has missed 11 of 17 question periods

Premier Doug Ford was not in the legislature on Tuesday morning to take questions about the firing of OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair, as he was touring a new SodaStream plant in Mississauga, Ont. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Premier Doug Ford was absent from question period for the fourth day in a row on Wednesday as the opposition demanded answers about the firing of a senior OPP officer and called for a public inquiry into allegations of political interference in the OPP. 

The New Democrats have been grilling the government all week during question period about the firing of Brad Blair, the OPP deputy commissioner.

Blair, a 32-year veteran of the OPP, is waging a court battle about the government's decision to appoint a longtime friend of Ford, Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner, to lead the provincial force.

Taverner withdrew his name from consideration for the position Wednesday in a letter to Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones.

On Wednesday, Julian Falconer, Blair's lawyer, accused Ford of orchestrating Blair's firing. "The conflicts of interest that abound in this case are mind-boggling," he told reporters on a conference call. "This is what abuse of power looks like in 2019."

So where's the premier been?

Ford's staff said he was at unspecified meetings Wednesday morning. Later it emerged that he was visiting the future site of a Sobeys warehouse in Vaughan, Ont., just north of Toronto.

On Tuesday during question period, Ford was cutting the ribbon at the opening of a SodaStream factory in Mississauga, Ont. On Monday morning, he attended the annual general meeting of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, then held a roundtable meeting with mining industry representatives at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention.

Since announcing Taverner's appointment to lead the OPP in late November, Ford has missed 11 of 17 question periods. 

But government house leader Todd Smith is defending Ford's attendance record.

"The premier makes himself available when he sees fit," Smith told reporters Wednesday at the legislature. "He actually does love being in question period but there are other things obviously that occupy the premier's time and priorities."  

The Official Opposition, however, is demanding Ford show up to answer its questions.

"The people of Ontario expect the premier to stand in this legislature and be accountable for his actions," said NDP Deputy Leader John Vanthof. "The premier is personally implicated in these issues." 

"If our leaders don't bother showing up, if they don't believe that question period is worth the effort, I quite frankly believe it's an affront to democracy." 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was also not in question period on Wednesday. Her staff said she was taping a TV interview and attending a community event at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. Horwath has missed only three of the last 17 question period sessions.

In February and March of 2015, the opposition grilled the Liberal government daily over allegations that then-premier Kathleen Wynne's deputy chief of staff had offered a bribe to a would-be candidate to drop out of the Sudbury byelection race. Wynne skipped just three of 21 question period sessions in that timeframe.

The Ford government continues to deny interfering in Taverner's hiring and Blair's firing.

The PCs say senior officials in the non-partisan public service fired Blair because he revealed confidential OPP information to support his court case. Blair filed documents suggesting that Ford's staff wanted the OPP to spend $50,000 to customize a van and that Ford wanted say over the rotation of OPP bodyguards assigned to protect him.

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