Published February 21, 2023

Ford faces sharp questions about relationships with developers as legislature resumes

Ford has faced flak for developers attending his daughter's $150-per-ticket stag-and-doe

By Allison Jones and Liam Casey in Toronto

Ontario Premier Doug Ford dodged most questions about his relationships with developers as the legislature resumed Tuesday following its winter break.

The opposition peppered Ford with questions about developers attending his daughter and son-in-law's $150-per-ticket stag-and-doe event last summer before their wedding.

Ford has said he did nothing wrong when developers who are longtime family friends attended the event, which is typically held to raise money for an engaged couple.

The scrutiny of Ford's relationships with developers comes after the province announced in November that it is removing about 7,400 acres from 15 different areas in the protected Greenbelt, while adding more parcels elsewhere, in order to build 50,000 homes.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles, in her first question period as head of the Opposition, asked Ford multiple questions about the stag and doe, and his dealings with developers. 

"Can the premier explain to Ontarians how they were, are supposed to believe that these developers weren't given a heads-up about his plans for the Greenbelt?" asked Stiles.

"My family is separate than the political process," Ford said in response. "They aren't involved."

Ford said he asked the integrity commissioner to look at the stag and doe and the commissioner's office "found there was no violation."

The Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario has said that based on information provided, Ford had no knowledge of gifts given to his daughter and son-in-law and there was no discussion of government business at the summer event.

Media reports cite sources as saying lobbying and government relations firms were asked to buy tickets.

Stiles said the issue wasn't about Ford's family, rather it was about the premier's behaviour and the integrity of his office. She asked if the premier or any government staffers had a role in making the invitation list for the event.

Ford did not answer and passed it off to one of his top ministers, Paul Calandra.

"I think the premier has already responded to that," Calandra said, before trumpeting his government's economic achievements.

"Does the premier understand how bad this looks, not just for the premier, but for the integrity of his government?" Stiles responded.

Calandra, again, repeated his previous answer.

Ford also dodged questions about his refusal to testify at the inquiry over the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act during last year's so-called "Freedom Convoy" protests.

Justice Paul Rouleau, the inquiry’s commissioner, concluded that Ontario was reluctant to become “fully engaged” with the City of Ottawa and the federal government, and called the province’s reluctance to resolve the situation in Ottawa “troubling.”

Rouleau said the province "abandoned" the people of Ottawa by not helping sooner. He noted Ontario only became fully involved once protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., a major trade route between Canada and the United States.

"What does the premier have to say to Ottawa now that we know the extent of his government's failure to act?" Stiles asked.

Ford did not answer, but Calandra did, citing the work of the Ontario Provincial Police in advance and during the protests.

He said the province will work on better co-ordination between police forces, another problem Rouleau highlighted his 2,000-page report.

The government is set to introduce health reform legislation later Tuesday that will include allowing private clinics to perform more surgical procedures and diagnostic tests among other changes designed to deal with massive backlogs.

In another development on Tuesday, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he's staying put after considering an invitation to jump ship and join the Liberal party. 

He said he heard from thousands of people in his home riding of Guelph, Ont., and beyond after a group of 40 prominent Liberals asked him to join their party and run for leader. 

"I felt I owed it to the people of Ontario to consider a different option," Schreiner told reporters after question period.

"And I chose after that consultation with my constituents in Guelph, people across the province have been very clear to me that the best way I can make a difference is as the Ontario Green leader."

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023.

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