Ontario's integrity commissioner pauses probe into complaint over Ford stag party
Ontario’s integrity commissioner is hitting pause on a request from the NDP to investigate whether Premier Doug Ford acted improperly in relation to his daughter’s stag and doe party.
The decision was written in an interim report released Thursday.
In the report, Integrity Commissioner David Wake says despite the “flaws” in NDP Leader Marit Stiles’ request for an investigation, he is “not prepared to dismiss it at this point.”
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Wake notes there is some overlap in another request related to whether the Ford government may have used their influence to further the interests of developers when deciding to carve up the Greenbelt.
The commissioner says staff are reviewing “extensive material,” and have done “independent research on the matter.”
“We are preparing summonses for numerous witnesses to be interviewed,” he wrote in the report.
“In the end I will prepare and deliver a public report on our inquiry as I am required to do.”
The investigation request was brought forward by the NDP after media reported developers and lobbyists had attended a $150-entry stag and doe party for Ford’s daughter.
In a letter to Wake in February, Stiles argued that “concerning details have come to light about developers and lobbyists with donor and political ties to Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party being invited to participate in two Ford family events.”
She argued the premier is “obligated to avoid conflict and the appearance of conflict.”
In response to questioning, the premier has maintained the event was a private affair and he had no part in managing the guest list. He also said the integrity commissioner cleared him of wrongdoing.
Ford went to the integrity commissioner in January after journalists began to ask him questions about the event. At the time, a spokesperson for the premier said that information submitted by Ford suggested he had no knowledge of the gifts given to his daughter and son-in-law, "and that there was no discussion of government business at either of the events."
The interim report released Thursday provides a first glimpse of the evidence Ford presented ahead of this decision.
In the report, Wake says Ford’s staff contacted his office on Jan. 25 asking to arrange a phone call with the premier related to a media inquiry.
“When I spoke to Premier Ford he stated that he had ‘stayed clear’ of the planning for his daughter’s wedding and left it to his wife and daughters and their friends,” Wake wrote in the interim report. “This was consistent with what he had told me on an earlier occasion when he commented on the prospect of having two weddings in one year.”
Wake said Ford named four developers and sons of developers who had attended the party, adding they were long-time friends of the family.
“Some developers and lobbyists may have attended the pre-wedding celebration, but Premier Ford maintained that he was not keeping track of who may have attended the event, noting that most of the people were friends of his daughter and future son-in-law.”
The premier, Wake wrote, denied receiving any financial contributions from any developer or lobbyist and was adamant that no government business was discussed.
The commissioner found there was nothing wrong with inviting personal friends, who happen to be government stakeholders, to an event in which confidential government information was not revealed.
He also said the entry fee for the stag party was not being personally pocketed by the premier, and therefore does not constitute a gift or personal benefit to him.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto, Stiles did not seem concerned the request related to the stag and doe party was being put on the backburner. Instead, she focused on the fact that Wake is simply pausing it while his office is “digging in deep” on her previous request to investigate whether developers were tipped off on the province’s plans to carve up 7,400 acres of previously protected land.
“I'm also pleased to hear that he's going so far as to prepare to summon witnesses, and that's good news. So I think it sounds like the integrity commissioner is using the powers that you have which I will say are quite limited, to be able to actually conduct a real investigation here,” she said.
“I really do want to give him the space and time to do the investigation necessary.”
The investigation will look into whether Housing Minister Steve Clark contravened the Members Integrity Act, focusing on sections that cover conflicts of interest and the use of insider information.
Wake said he will resume the stag and doe probe once he determines if there was wrongdoing in relation with the government’s Greenbelt plans.
Ontario’s auditor general is also opening up an investigation into the Ford government’s plans to develop the Greenbelt. The office anticipates finishing its value-for-money audit into the financial and environmental impacts of land removal sometime in 2023.
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