Ontario integrity commissioner pauses Ford stag-and-doe probe

Ontario’s integrity commissioner has temporarily set aside a request from the NDP to issue an opinion on Premier Doug Ford’s daughter’s stag-and-doe event, which was attended by some developers.

Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake said in a statement Thursday that while there are some “flaws” in the request from NDP Leader Marit Stiles, he isn’t outright dismissing it – just pausing it – because there is overlap with a related investigation.

Stiles had also asked Wake to investigate what she called the “curious timing of recent purchases of Greenbelt land by powerful landowners with donor and political ties to the Ontario PC Party.”

Wake says he and his staff are reviewing the “extensive material” gathered so far, have done independent research, and are preparing summonses for numerous witnesses to be interviewed.

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Stiles thanked the commissioner for his work thus far.

“It also acknowledges the limitations of the Members’ Integrity Act, yet indicates that the evidence I presented may nevertheless meet the high bar of reasonable and probable grounds for a full investigation into the Premier’s conduct pending the conclusion of his investigation into my complaint regarding the dismantling of the Greenbelt,” she wrote in a statement.

Ford and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark have both denied tipping off developers ahead of the public announcement last year that the government would remove land from 15 different areas of the protected Greenbelt so that 50,000 homes can be built.

Ford has acknowledged that some developers, who are friends, attended the $150-a-ticket stag-and-doe event for his daughter last summer, and media reports say lobbyists and government relations firms were also invited.

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Stiles said the event raises the appearance of a conflict of interest and she cited media reports that said invitees felt “browbeaten” into purchasing tickets.

Wake said there are several issues with her complaint.

For one, he said the only question that matters is whether Ford himself received any funds, which the premier has denied. A rule about receiving gifts doesn’t apply to a member’s adult children, Wake said.

The commissioner also said the reliance on media articles that cite anonymous sources is problematic.

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“It is difficult to assess the motivation or veracity of such claims,” he wrote. “In the interest of fair process I must be able to interview actual witnesses and not cardboard cutouts.”

Wake also noted that the Members’ Integrity Act doesn’t govern perceived conflicts of interest, only actual ones.

“I did recommend that the legislature review the act with a view to clarifying whether it should apply to appearances of conflict (in 2016),  but nothing was ever done,” he wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2023.