Ford government changed rules to fast-track a new appointment
Published Tuesday, August 20, 2019 7:59PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 21, 2019 8:03PM EDT
Ontario Premier Doug Ford's cabinet made a significant change to Ontario's appointment rules, CTV News Toronto has learned, in order to fast-track an appointee to the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT), an agency that mediates disputes between developers and municipalities.
The change allowed the Premier’s Office to bypass appointment rules that stipulate the government must use a “competitive, merit-based process,” including publicly posting the position for 10 business days.
Sources say that when members of the Progressive Conservative government quietly questioned why the Premier's Office wanted to speed through the appointment process, they were told the matter was “urgent.”
The move, PC insiders say, is especially concerning because the government has been mired in a summer-long appointments scandal in which taxpayer-funded jobs were being given to people with personal and family connections to Dean French, Ford’s former chief of staff.
Multiple sources tell CTV News Toronto that two cabinet orders were signed on Aug. 15. The first allowed the government to circumvent the appointments process if the matter was deemed to be “urgent.” The second order appointed Marie Hubbard to the LPAT board.
Hubbard, 84, has extensive knowledge of the appeals system having served as a board member of the Ontario Municipal Board—the predecessor of the LPAT—for a decade. In 2003, Hubbard was promoted to chair the board by the former Liberal government and served until 2007.
While Hubbard’s resume was never in question, the process to appoint her to the tribunal raised eyebrows internally. Hubbard was recommended for the vice-chair position by the executive chair of Tribunals Ontario just one day before she was appointed, giving the government little opportunity to review the recommendation.
Sources say the appointment was directed by the Premier’s Office and shepherded by Ford’s interim chief-of-staff Jamie Wallace.
“Jamie Wallace was running this train,” the source said, speaking strictly on the condition of anonymity. “They amended the rules specifically to achieve this.”
Senior sources within the Premier’s Office confirm to CTV News Toronto that the government changed the regulations in order to “fix the problem” of an 18-month backlog of cases at the tribunal.
The source, describing Hubbard as “eminently qualified,” stressed that the appointment is for a six-month term and that the government plans to hold an open search for a new vice-chair.
“She’s going to step in and help us figure out how to deal with the backlog to get things moving and to make recommendations to government on how to improve the process,” the source said.
Critics of the Ford government, however, say they are troubled by the lengths the PC party went for this appointment and question whether the tool will be used again.
“This basically is a blank cheque,” says NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “He basically is going to be able to appoint anybody at anytime.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner says the government would have known about the tribunal backlog for months, rendering the change unnecessary.
“I’m all for clearing the backlog at LPAT, but changing the appointment process in this way in order to facilitate an appointment, is just wrong.” Schreiner told CTV News Toronto.
“The premier could have waited ten days. It raises questions about the motive.”
Questions also loom about Hubbard’s connection to Ford, who sources say spoke highly of the appointee around the cabinet table.
However, Premier’s Office sources say Hubbard’s decades-long history in municipal politics makes her a well-known figure among politicians.
“She’s been immersed in that field in municipal politics for so long that of course everybody knows her,” the source told CTV News Toronto.
“That just provides comfort that this is a highly capable individual."