Tory Leader Andrew Scheer met with SNC chief to discuss criminal charges

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MONTREAL—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer met with the head of SNC-Lavalin to discuss the criminal charges facing the Quebec construction giant in May 2018, the Opposition leader’s office confirms.

Scheer discussed a possible “deferred prosecution agreement” with SNC CEO Neil Bruce on May 29. SNC is pushing for a so-called “DPA” to avoid criminal charges related to fraud and corruption in its work in Libya between 2001 and 2011.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was one of a number of politicians who have met with the chief executive of SNC-Lavalin.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was one of a number of politicians who have met with the chief executive of SNC-Lavalin.  (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

“Mr. Scheer met with a representative from SNC-Lavalin and was briefed on the company’s position with regards to deferred prosecution agreements,” wrote Brock Harrison, Scheer’s communications director, in an email to the Star on Saturday.

“At the time, the Liberals had added provisions on DPAs in 2018 budget documents. The meeting was one of several SNC-Lavalin sought out and held with MPs from all parties during the budget debate.”

Harrison did not respond to repeated questions Saturday and Sunday as to whether Scheer has an opinion on whether SNC should be allowed to avoid criminal trial through a DPA.

The question is more than academic. If Scheer and the Conservatives form government after the October election, they are likely to inherit the question of whether SNC-Lavalin should face its criminal charges — and be banned from federal contracts for a decade if found guilty — or be allowed to cut a deal with prosecutors and face fines and corporate reforms.

Lobbying records show Bruce also met with Dean Allison, the Conservatives’ international trade critic, twice in April 2018, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and New Democrat MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault in May 2018.

Bruce also held meetings with a bevy of senior bureaucrats, Liberal MPs, cabinet ministers, and senior officials in Justin Trudeau’s office throughout 2018.

Opposition MPs have been calling for investigations into allegations, first reported by the Globe and Mail, that members of the Prime Minister’s Office pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to push for a deal for SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau and the Liberals have denied the allegations. Wilson-Raybould, now the veterans’ affairs minister, has refused to comment.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who chairs the Commons justice committee, said on social media that he will convene a meeting on Wednesday, where it will be decided whether hearings into the SNC-Lavalin affair, as demanded by the Conservatives and New Democrats, will go ahead. He rejected suggestions that the outcome of that meeting had already been decided. “I intend to independently determine whether Committee study of the issue will be useful for Canadians & colleagues will do same. Nobody has attempted to influence me,” he said on Twitter.

However, Liberal MPs hold the majority of seats on the committee and are expected to vote down the opposition motion.

If found guilty, SNC-Lavalin would face a 10-year prohibition from bidding on federal contracts — a potentially fatal blow to the Quebec construction giant that employs thousands across Canada.

A DPA — a tool introduced by the Liberals in 2018 based on similar models in the U.S. and U.K. — would mean the company would face potentially steep fines and corporate governance reforms, but would not lose out on billions in federal business.

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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Elections Canada chief warns political parties are vulnerable to cyberattacks – National

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OTTAWA – Canada’s chief electoral officer is “pretty confident” that Elections Canada has good safeguards to prevent cyberattacks from robbing Canadians of their right to vote in this year’s federal election.

But Stephane Perrault is worried that political parties aren’t so well equipped.

“They don’t have access to the resources we have access to,” Perrault said in an interview Monday, noting that “securing (computer) systems is quite expensive… Even the larger parties have nowhere near our resources and you’ve got much smaller parties with very little resources.”

READ MORE: Feds unveil plan to fight foreign interference in 2019 federal election

Moreover, with thousands of volunteers involved in campaigns, he said it’s difficult to ensure no one falls prey to “fairly basic cyber tricks,” like phishing, that could inadvertently give hackers access to a party’s databases.

“You can spend a lot of money on those (security) systems and if the human (fails), that’s the weak link.”

Elections Canada has been training its own staff to resist such tricks and, along with Canada’s cyberspying agency, the Communications Security Establishment, will be meeting with party officials again next week to reinforce the need to train their volunteers.

Perrault said he was “really disappointed” that omnibus legislation to reform Canada’s election laws, passed just before Christmas, did not include measures to impose privacy rules on parties, which have amassed huge databases of personal information on voters. At the very least, he said, Canadians should be able to find out what information a party has collected on them and demand that it be revised or removed.

WATCH: ‘Naive’ to assume Canada not a target for election interference







The legislation requires only that parties publish a policy for protecting personal information. There is no requirement to report a breach and no oversight by the privacy commissioner.

Should a party’s computer system be hacked and the information used to embarrass the party, as occurred to the Democrats during the 2016 U.S. presidential contest, Perrault said Elections Canada would have no role in investigating the matter.

That would be up to security authorities and the party involved. Under a “critical election incident protocol” announced last week, five senior bureaucrats would be empowered to decide when an incident is serious enough to warrant publicly disclosing it in the midst of a campaign.

Elections Canada would only be involved if a hacker used the information gleaned from a party’s databases to interfere with Canadians’ right to vote – for instance, by spreading disinformation about how, where and when they should vote.

READ MORE: Liberals introduce bill to deter foreign meddling in elections. Critics say it’s not strong enough

“The important thing is that Canadians are not prevented from voting. From my perspective, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Perrault said.

In its own operations, Perrault said Elections Canada has done everything it can to prevent cyberattacks.

“Overall, I think we’re pretty confident we are where we need to be at this point.”

But he added: “It’s certainly uncharted territory for us. We’ve seen the Americans go through this and Brexit and France and Germany, so we have a sense of the potential out there. But we’ve never had to prepare for an election like this.”

WATCH: Stopping cyberattacks and foreign meddling in elections







Since the 2015 election, Perrault said Elections Canada has rebuilt its information-technology infrastructure with sophisticated security improvements, based on advice from the Communications Security Establishment, which now monitors those systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“No system is 100-per-cent proof but they’re much more concerned about the parties than about Elections Canada,” Perrault said.

In addition, he said the agency has set up a team to monitor social media and to quickly counter any disinformation about the right to vote. As well, it will have a repository on its website of every public communication from Elections Canada so that individuals can verify the legitimacy of information they see on social media or elsewhere that purports to be from the agency.

“We really want to be the trusted source of information on the electoral process.”

READ MORE: New Canadian cybersecurity centre to look at election interference threats

The recently passed legislation included a number of measures aimed at preventing foreign interference and deliberate disinformation campaigns in Canadian elections, including giving the commissioner of elections greater powers to investigate and compel testimony, prohibiting the use of foreign money and requiring social-media giants to keep a registry of all political ads posted on their platforms.

But arguably the best hedge against cyberattacks is the fact that Canada still relies on paper ballots that are counted by hand.

“You can’t hack that,” Perrault said.

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Equipment shed fire in Burnaby is ‘under control’, says Deputy Chief – BC

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Fire crews have contained a fire at a commercial building at Aubrey Street and Pinehurst Drive in Burnaby, alarmingly close to the Kinder Morgan tank farm facility.

Burnaby Fire Deputy Chief Dave Samson assures local residents they are safe from danger, and there are no immediate concerns for those in the area.

Samson tells Global News that crews were called out to 7742 Aubrey Street at 7:53 p.m. to a second alarm fire at a commercial structure, which appears to be a large storage garage, situated about 400 feet away from the Kinder Morgan tank farm. There is a home nearby the structure, but Samson says it is protected and the owner is on site.

Samson explains the main concern for firefighters was keeping the fire contained and from spreading to surrounding forest.

Adding to that challenge was access to the site itself and water supply issues. Due to the blaze’s location at the top of the mountain, there’s relatively no water pressure. Crews circumvented that challenge by creating a water supply structure to relay pump.

Fire crews are not aware of what might have been inside the storage shed – perhaps some chemicals, Samson says – and their attack on the blaze was limited to the exterior due to the extreme heat.

The bright orange flames and plumes of smoke could be seen for quite a distance, causing some alarm to local residents no doubt because of the proximity to the Kinder Morgan facility.

Samson says he expects a long operation ahead cleaning up after the fire is put out, and with the ensuing investigation.

There are no reported injuries.

RCMP, BC Hydro and Fortis are all on hand.

 

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Ontario names former Lac Seul chief as ‘special adviser’ on Indigenous affairs

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The Ontario government has named the former chief of Lac Seul First Nation in northwestern Ontario to an adviser’s role to the province’s Indigenous affairs minister.

The province announced on Friday that Clifford Bull will be a « special adviser » on Indigenous affairs. A written release stated that Bull will advise Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford on economic, social and jurisdictional issues affecting Indigenous communities.

According to the government, Bull will also « serve as a liaison » on behalf of Premier Doug Ford and Rickford, with Indigenous communities.

Bull was chief of Lac Seul from 2006 up until earlier this year. The province said he has also served as a band councillor for the community and worked as a social worker supporting residential school survivors.

« He has a proven track record of bringing communities and individuals together to achieve common goals, » Rickford was quoted as saying in the government’s announcement. « As special adviser, I know he will help create meaningful opportunities to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous communities and Ontario. »

Bull ran for the PCs in the newly-created Kiiwetinoong riding in the 2018 provincial election, finishing second behind the NDP’s Sol Mamakwa.

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Toronto police chief on gun violence: ‘To think we can arrest our way out of this is a falsehood’

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“Not only did we have a high-profile homicide case to look after, we also had to respond to two mass casualty attacks that left a tremendous loss of life and lots of injuries for our citizens.’’

High-profile homicide case: A serial killer preying on the gay community, though Saunders had assured there was no such thing last December, despite tracking orders for the suspect obtained just days earlier, leading ultimately to the arrest of Bruce McArthur on Jan. 18.

Mass casualty attacks: The deliberate van rampage on north Yonge St. in April that killed 10 and injured 16, some critically; the lone shooter carnage on Danforth in July that killed two innocents and wounded 13.

“Two mass casualty incidents in such a short period of time,” said the chief, grimly, recalling a personal nadir for 2018. “I think that was a game-changer. It’s one thing when you’re dealing with gunplay. It’s another thing when you’re walking down the street and looking over your shoulder or you’re sitting in a restaurant with family and friends and the next thing…

“The general public really felt stung by the two mass casualties back to back and it’s still there.”

A year of ominous firsts for Toronto: An unprecedented 96 murders, 51 of them by gunfire; police had recorded 406 shootings as of Sunday. Mass carnage by disturbed individuals, the kind of extremist slaughter we believed, in our smug naïveté, only happened elsewhere.

So, yes, the statistics were skewed by two abnormal and deviant occurrences. But the shootings, my God the shootings.

“I’ve said earlier that most of our gun violence is street gang related and I stand by that. That’s not just Toronto, that’s all urban cities across North America. The street gang issue is our primary concern. Most people that are getting shot are people that are living a high-risk lifestyle, in conjunction with being associated to street gangs. That’s the root of the matter that we have to look at.

“The numbers are one thing. But people that are motivated to shoot other people I’ve got concerns with. If people think that it’s a matter of just arresting and all is well, that’s a far cry from the truth, a far cry from the right solution in today’s environment. You need to have the resources necessary, at the front end and the back end, and our enforcement piece in the middle in order to get this right.”

But what does getting it right mean, practically? Because there is widespread disagreement on where to stick the limited fingers — and the funds — in the dike.

Not carding — street checks which provided police officers with street intel yet was disproportionately borne by the city’s racialized communities and underprivileged neighbourhoods. The police board ended that, just as, three years ago, TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) was disbanded.

“To think we can arrest our way out of this is a falsehood,” Saunders stated bluntly, when asked about the ramifications of ditching carding and TAVIS, which some believe has led directly to brazen violence and gangbangers laughing at police.

“Ninety per cent of these folks we arrest get out, will be out and will be continually released,” said Saunders, clearly a shot across the bow at the judicial bail system. He pointed to Project Patton — massive multi-jurisdiction raids in June that resulted in more than 1,000 charges against 75 accused and the largest weapons seizure in the city’s history. Yet most defendants cartwheeled right through bail court. “Some of those members that we arrested were people that were arrested in prior large-scale projects.”

Which might call into question the usefulness of such roust-out-of-bed raids. They certainly do disrupt gang activity and illegal weapons distribution, but only temporarily. Criminals reorganize, gangs reconstitute, the wheels of violence keep on turning.

And, it must be noted, the public by and large favours this type of interdiction. They see all those guns laid out on a display table at the cop shop and there’s a sense that something is being done. But it is not a sustainable solution to urban crime drenched in bloodshed, with innocents caught in the crossfire.

Repeatedly, Saunders advocated stronger community relationships and interlocking engagement — police, public, social agencies, partnerships.

“The enforcement piece plays an important part. I’m not here to say that it’s softer policing. I’m here to say that it’s smarter policing. There have to be agencies at the front end that prevent these young boys from shooting others. There’s a lot of funding that needs to be put in. Not grant funding; core funding, into the communities. Nobody’s ever, that I know of, born saying ‘I want to be a street gang member.’

“The enforcement piece is ours, and then the deterrent factor. When someone shoots someone, they’re going to jail. Developing the relationship piece is what’s critical, first and foremost.’’

This past year, 514 handguns taken off the street, 172 more than 2017. But the underlying factor is what seizes Saunders most. “What’s motivating people to use a gun to resolve issues? Those are things we can’t just do as an enforcement piece. It is necessary but it has to be streamlined, it has to be surgical, it has to be intelligence-led if we’re going to get it right.”

Distilled: “Arresting police is not a success story.”

Well, not so sure about that. We’ve had decades of trying to avert gang affiliation, keep young people off the criminal path via youth programs and precrisis intervention. Some community programs have worked better than others; there’s been precious little auditing of efficiency and always, always, more clamouring for funding. Yet the jails grow more crowded, the promise of opportunity shrivels, the lure of gangs enticing, distrust burgeoning.

“When we go into communities that don’t have the funding, that have no hope, that despair, 99 per cent of those members of the community are law-abiding,’’ Saunders emphasizes. “They care about their babies just like we all do. But at the same time, they have to deal with reality and they’re concerned for their safety.’’

The chief likened gangs to sports teams. “It’s not an individual sport. So when a member from Team A shoots a member from Team B in that particular neighbourhood, it makes it very hard for you as a mom or a dad to pick up the phone and say this is who did it and I saw everything. Because that one person gets apprehended but the rest of the team is still out there. There’s fear of retribution. I would like some methodology in which we can still get that information and translate it so we can make it into a courtroom somehow.”

Because people do call the cops, even in neighbourhoods with a long history of bitterness toward law enforcement. All levels of government, said Saunders, should examine procedures to ensure their safety in co-operating with police. “Our Criminal Code, I think it’s antiquated.”

Maybe so are our presumptions of criminality.

“I want to be candid. I don’t want to make this sound sexy. We take every single shooting seriously. If we have stronger relationships with the community, we have an opportunity to reduce that. But at the end of the day, when a young man takes a gun and shoots, there are different entities that are responsible for that. We are the aftermath of that. What is in front of that? What are the measuring tools to see whether or not things are successful?

“So to dump on me and say, what are you going to do about it? I’m going to educate the public and say if we’re going to do it right, it has to be collective. And I’m going to continue to deliver that message.”

He’ll be doing it, Saunders expects, with some 200 more officers hired by the beginning of 2020. He vows they will be deployed smart, where most needed — “district-focused.” And if the much-vaunted Toronto Police Service’s modernization plan continues as calculated, front-line officers won’t be wasting their time on low-grade call-outs that can deftly be handled by civilian employees, online and via an expanding roster of special constables to relieve the load on front-line cops.

Under that program, within its first 108 days this past year, special constables took on 23,000 calls, Saunders pointed out, amounting to 3,300 hours of police work, which simultaneously reduced the response time on urgent calls.

A city of 2.8 million people. Two million calls to police this past year. Five million “contact points” between police and the public.

“Throughout the year, despite everything that happened, our members have truly done outstanding things. They’ve rescued people from drowning in an elevator. They prevented suicides. They’ve rescued people and pets from freezing water. They brought shoes to homeless people. They’ve supported families by purchasing groceries. They’ve walked into gunfights, knife fights, saved lives and continued to make arrests when needed.”

But has any of it made a difference to the quality of life in Toronto?

“Depends on who you ask.”

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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LIVE: Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders to hold end-of-year news conference this morning

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Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders is expected to address the public and the media at a year-end news conference at police headquarters Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m.

He is expected to face questions about Toronto’s record homicide numbers, the police investigation of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, police participation in the 2019 Pride Parade and the recent Ontario Human Rights Comission report that found Black people are “grossly overrepresented” in cases in which Toronto police have used force, especially fatal shootings.

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Ron Taverner staying with Toronto police despite appointment as OPP chief

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Ron Taverner, who’s tapped to be the next chief of Ontario Provincial Police, has rescinded his resignation papers as a superintendent with Toronto police.

Taverner submitted papers to reverse his resignation on Saturday, Toronto police said. Chief Mark Saunders approved the move on Sunday night.

« As of today, the superintendent is back to being unit commander of our northwest district, » said police spokesperson Meaghan Gray.

The longtime Toronto police officer was controversially appointed by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government to become the next chief of the OPP in late November. Taverner is a 51-year veteran of Toronto police who leads the force’s Etobicoke divisions.

Former acting OPP commissioner Brad Blair has asked the courts to order Ontario ombudsman Paul Dube to investigate Taverner’s hiring, after the ombudsman declined his request to carry out the probe.

The Ontario NDP and the citizen advocacy group Democracy Watch have also called for investigations into the appointment.

Taverner had previously asked to have his appointment as provincial police commissioner postponed after Blair’s call for an investigation. He was originally scheduled to be sworn in today.

Ford denies involvement

Taverner, who is is a friend of Premier Doug Ford, did not meet the original requirements for the job posting. The PC government said it lowered the job qualifications to attract a wider field of candidates.

Ford has repeatedly denied any involvement in Taverner’s appointment, and said the decision was made by a hiring panel.

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath, who has repeatedly criticized Taverner’s appointment amid concerns about political interference, told reporters at Queen’s Park she’s « relieved » by Taverner’s decision.

Horwath explained that a « flood of concern has been forming across Ontario » about Taverner’s controversial appointment.

She also renewed calls for a non-partisan emergency select committee to conduct its own investigation into the matter.

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PCs delay controversial appointment of OPP chief while selection is reviewed

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The Ontario government said Saturday it will « respect » a request from the incoming OPP commissioner to delay his appointment while the province’s integrity commissioner reviews the circumstances of his selection.

Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, a 51-year veteran of the force and long-time family friend of Premier Doug Ford, was named as the next OPP commissioner last month. He was set to be appointed on Monday. 

In his request, which was made via email to Sylvia Jones, minister of community safety and correctional services, Taverner said he made the decision « out of the greatest of respect for the brave men and women of the Ontario Provincial Police. »

Jones said in a statement that the government has accepted his decision. 

« While the government has full confidence in Mr. Taverner, we will respect his request for a delay in his appointment, until such time as the integrity commissioner has conducted a review of the selection process, » Jones said. 

Earlier this week, interim OPP Commissioner Brad Blair asked the Ontario ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s selection in a scathing letter. The 32-year veteran said the process was marred by « questions of political interference. »

Taverner did not initially qualify for the role, but the Ford government has admitted that it lowered the requirements for the job to attract a wider range of candidates.

Of the 27 candidates, Blair — who applied for the job himself — contended only four did not meet the original threshold requirements.

The ombudsman, however, denied Blair’s request. Blair has since filed a lawsuit, asking an Ontario court to compel Ombudsman Paul Dubé to carry out a probe. Blair’s legal counsel, Julian Falconer, said the ombudsman believes the directive to undertake a probe must come from the premier and his cabinet.  

Blair offered to step aside as interim commissioner while a review was completed. On Saturday, it was revealed that OPP Deputy Commissioner Gary Couture would take on the role while the integrity commissioner looks into Taverner’s selection.

Couture will take temporary command on Monday, according to Falconer, who laid out some details of the transition in a conference call with reporters on Saturday afternoon.

Blair does ‘not regret a single step’

In a statement, Blair said he will be « fully supportive » of Couture, adding that he does « not regret a single step » he has taken in the last week.

« I remain devoted to ensuring that the well-earned reputation of the Ontario Provincial Police remains untarnished. It is this credibility, along with the perceived independence of our service, that puts us in the best possible position to uphold the rule of law, » Blair continued. 

Brad Blair will return to his former role as deputy commissioner, traffic safety and operational support for the Ontario Provincial Police. (Ontario Provincial Police)

His lawyer, Falconer, said that despite the developments, Blair would continue with his court case to have the ombudsman launch his own review. Falconer said the powers of the ombudsman’s office « far exceed » those of the integrity commissioner, and they will facilitate a « more robust, more independent » report.

« We need the ombudsman to do his job, » Falconer said. 

Premier denies involvement

For his part, Ford has denied that he tried to influence the selection process. 

« We’re friends. I’m friends with thousands of people, » Ford said last week, noting he was in the cabinet meeting that resulted in the appointment.

As the story has developed further, however, Ford has avoided taking questions from reporters at public events.

In a statement, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the delay suggests that concerns about political interference are « founded.

« We can’t allow the credibility and integrity of the OPP to be put at risk by Mr. Ford, » Horwath, leader of the province’s Official Opposition, continued. 

The NDP has called for an non-partisan emergency select committee to conducts its own investigation into the matter.

Similarly, Horwath has asked that the RCMP step in to probe an allegation from Blair that the premier’s office asked the OPP to buy a « camper-type » vehicle that would be customized to Ford’s specifications. The purchase was to remain « off the books, » according to Blair. 

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Acting OPP chief asks court to examine ombudsman’s decision not to review Ron Taverner appointment

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The acting head of the Ontario Provincial Police has asked a court to rule whether the provincial ombudsman can review the hiring process that saw Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner named as the next OPP commissioner.

The move came Friday, after Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé turned down a request earlier in the week from Interim Commissioner Brad Blair to probe “potential political interference” in the appointment.

Taverner, a close friend of Premier Doug Ford, is expected to be sworn in as commissioner on Monday. In his original request to the ombudsman on Tuesday, Blair asked that Taverner’s installation to be delayed pending his requested review of the appointment.

According to a statement from Blair’s lawyer late Friday afternoon, Dubé “refused to exercise his jurisdiction to review Commissioner Blair’s request.”

In response, and in one of his final acts as interim commissioner, Blair filed an application to a divisional court “to determine and enforce the jurisdiction” of the ombudsman to review the OPP commissioner hiring process.

“If the Ombudsman does not review the complaint, the independence of the OPP will continue to operate under a cloud of suspicion,” reads the application.

“This is a serious matter as the independence of the OPP — a body that can be called in to investigate provincial politicians — must be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the citizenry.”

The application is relying on a section of Ontario’s Ombudsman Act, which states that when there is a question about whether the ombudsman has the jurisdiction to investigate any case, a directly affected person — in this case Blair — “may apply to the divisional court for a declaration.”

A spokesperson for the ombudsman’s office could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, the NDP made a personal appeal to Taverner, urging him to delay the appointment until an investigation has wrapped up — and, in a separate letter, called on the province’s attorney general to “stop his swearing in” if he doesn’t.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says Taverner’s appointment is too fraught with controversy, given his close connection to Ford, and said “officers and leadership of the OPP, as well as the people of Ontario must have absolute confidence there has been no political interference … and that there will be no political interference in policing matters going forward.”

In a letter to Taverner, she said he should “do the right thing.

“That is why I am asking you to delay your installation and assuming command of the OPP until a full investigation … has been completed,” Horwath wrote.

She also accused Ford of demonstrating “poor judgment and a lack of transparency.”

In a second letter sent to Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh said “this appointment cannot go ahead under this growing cloud of suspicion … as Ontario’s attorney general and the chief prosecutor your first duty is to uphold the law … it is incumbent upon you to use your influence and authority as attorney general to intervene in this process and stop the swearing in of Supt. Taverner” for now.

Taverner’s appointment, announced Nov. 29, has dogged by speculation that Ford interfered in the hiring process.

The Star’s Kevin Donovan has revealed that Taverner was previously offered to lead the Ontario Cannabis Store, as well as a deputy minister position in the ministry of community safety with a source saying: “Doug wanted to do something for Taverner. That is what we are hearing.”

Both Ford and Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones have accused critics of slinging mud at the 72-year-old Toronto police superintendent, who has headed divisions in Etobicoke.

Taverner officially resigned from the Toronto police Friday and is set to begin his new job Monday.

Ford recently told reporters he did not recuse himself and signed off on the appointment.

Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones has said she supports Taverner, and that the appointment to the $275,000 position was made by an independent panel.

The NDP is personally appealing to Ron Taverner, urging him to delay taking the top OPP job until an investigation into his appointment has wrapped up — and if he doesn’t, Ontario’s attorney general is being asked to step in to stop his swearing in.

In two letters released Friday afternoon by the NDP, Leader Andrea Horwath says Taverner’s appointment as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police is too fraught with controversy given his close connection to Premier Doug Ford, and said “officers and leadership of the OPP, as well as the people of Ontario must have absolute confidence there has been no political interference … and that there will be no political interference in policing matters going forward.”

She says Taverner should “do the right thing. That is why I am asking you to delay your installation and assuming command of the OPP until a full investigation … has been completed.”

In a second letter sent to Mulroney, Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh says “this appointment cannot go ahead under this growing cloud of suspicion … as Ontario’s attorney general and the chief prosecutor your first duty is to uphold the law … it is incumbent upon you to use your influence and authority as attorney general to intervene in this process and stop the swearing in of Supt. Taverner” for now.

Taverner’s appointment, announced Nov. 29, has been lauded by some but heavily criticized by others who alleged Ford interfered in the hiring process.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Ford government’s new ‘audit and accountability’ committee will not probe why Ontario’s chief accountant quit

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The Progressive Conservative government has struck a new “audit and accountability” cabinet committee to increase the scrutiny on spending.

But Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said the panel of cabinet ministers will not examine why the province’s chief accountant quit after refusing to sign off on the public accounts due to concerns about the inflated deficit.

Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said a panel of cabinet ministers will not examine why the province’s chief accountant quit in September. “No, this committee won’t be looking at that,” he said Dec. 11, 2018.
Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said a panel of cabinet ministers will not examine why the province’s chief accountant quit in September. “No, this committee won’t be looking at that,” he said Dec. 11, 2018.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Bethlenfalvy, a Bay Street veteran, said Tuesday the committee “is designed to meet our fiduciary responsibilities.”

Asked if the new panel would try to determine why provincial controller Cindy Veinot resigned Sept. 27 after declining to approve what the government claimed was then a $15-billion deficit, he said: “No, this committee won’t be looking at that.”

“It’ll be taking the auditor general’s report and acting upon it and making sure ministries follow up so that we have great accountability,” the minister said.

As first disclosed by the Star, Veinot, a civil servant, left because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”

“I believe that the consolidated financial statements of the province of Ontario as issued … materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year,” she said in an unsolicited submission to the legislative “transparency” committee examining the province’s books.

Because Tory MPPs on that select committee have blocked Veinot from testifying as a witness, New Democrat Sandy Shaw said she has little hope for any new cabinet accountability initiative.

“It has been an abysmal failure,” said Shaw (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas), who sits on the committee.

“They talk a good a game … but their actions belie how transparent they’re really willing to be.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the new cabinet panel should begin its work by interviewing Veinot.

“It’s an audit committee and the public accounts they submitted don’t actually have the top accountant in the government’s signature on it. That’s the first thing they should investigate. They should talk to her,” said Fraser.

“She had very serious concerns about the government’s misrepresentation of the deficit.”

Veinot, who has also recommended an audit committee be formed, broke with the government over whether $11 billion in public money in co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan should be counted as an asset on the books.

She contends they are.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk — along with her predecessors — used to count them as such. But Lysyk changed her mind in 2015 and no longer does.

The new government sides with the auditor general, who praised the administration for its audit committee.

That decision has ballooned the deficit by $5 billion. It now sits at $14.5 billion, though the financial accountability officer said Monday it is at least $1.2 billion lower.

Lysyk, for her part, welcomed Bethlenfalvy’s new initiative.

“I am encouraged to hear that one of the responsibilities of the audit and accountability committee will be to monitor the timely implementation of the recommendations made by my office, resulting from our value-for-money and other audit work,” she said.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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