Doug Ford recorded trying to sell 'bogus' PC memberships, Liberals allege
Liberal campaign releases October 2016 audio recording at morning news conference
The Ontario Liberals released an audio recording on Thursday that features Doug Ford allegedly trying to sell "bogus memberships" to help secure the nomination of the Progressive Conservative candidate in his home riding.
In the edited audio recording presented by Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews, the PC leader is heard alongside Etobicoke Centre PC candidate Kinga Surma attempting to sign up new party members to support Surma in her nomination contest.
Matthews said the audio, which she said was recorded in an Etobicoke Tim Hortons in October 2016, when Ford was not leader of the party, was provided to the Liberal campaign by the man who recorded it. Matthews said the man wants to remain anonymous and would not divulge any further information about the provenance of the recording.
She added that a longer version of the audio exists and offered to provide it to journalists.
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On the tape, Ford and Surma can be heard telling residents of Etobicoke Centre — Ford's home riding — that it "won't cost ya anything" to sign up and that the forms could be left partially blank.
"You don't have to fill that out. She'll take your name, number; just sign it," Ford can be heard saying.
PC Party memberships are not free, and Matthews said the audio raises questions about who exactly was paying for the new members. According to PC Party rules, memberships cannot be given as gifts.
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Matthews also alleges that if someone else was paying for the memberships, it could constitute "secret donations," which are banned by Ontario's election finances law. She stopped short of asserting Ford paid for the memberships.
Pressed by reporters, Matthews said the Liberals took multiple steps to verify the authenticity of the recording, but she did not elaborate on what that process included.
"According to this new evidence, Mr. Ford was involved directly in the sale of bogus memberships on behalf of Ms. Surma," she said.
"These practices contradict the rules and regulations that Mr. Ford as leader has pledged to enforce."
Surma, a former Toronto city hall staffer for Ford's late brother Rob Ford, defeated lawyer Pina Martino in the Etobicoke Centre nomination race. Martino was formerly a deputy chief of staff to two PC Party leaders and maintains a high profile among party insiders.
At the news conference, Matthews also provided a 2016 affidavit from Martino in which she says she encountered several people on the PC membership list who maintained they had not signed any forms or paid any fees.
Ford had, however, invited them to the nomination meeting, according to the affidavit from Martino.
She also alleged that Ford once intimidated her by following her home, but Ford denied those accusations at a campaign stop in Tillsonburg, Ont., on Thursday morning.
"No, that never happened," he said.
Liberals trying to distract from issues, Ford says
Ford said the release of the audio is an attempt by the Liberals to "change the channel" two weeks before the June 7 election. He did not deny the veracity of the recording but said the events happened almost two years ago. He also said that he has never paid for another person's party membership.
He added that the Etobicoke Centre nomination went through an internal appeals process and was upheld by the PCs.
"It went through an appeals process," he said. "The appeal was totally dismissed...This is the Liberals two weeks before an election trying to change the channel on their mismanagement, scandal and waste."
When asked why he would go to such lengths to support Surma, Ford said his family has campaigned for PC candidates in the riding for 30 years. He also claimed that he once donated money to Martino before he chose to support Surma in the race.
The release of the audio excerpts comes as Ford tries to fend off accusations that some PC candidates may have used data stolen from 407 ETR to further their campaigns. The party's former candidate in Brampton East, Simmer Sandhu, was forced to resign over his alleged links to the stolen customer data.
On the campaign trail, Ford has said repeatedly that he has no knowledge that any other candidates have any links to the data breach and says he would act immediately in the face of credible allegations.
With files from The Canadian Press