Premier Doug Ford said he’d rather drive around the province than fly after a New Democrat dubbed his preference in customized vans “a souped-up man cave on wheels.”
“I’m the only premier in history that refuses to use the premier’s plane, the King Air, that costs the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Ford insisted Wednesday in a testy exchange with Essex MPP Taras Natyshak.
Premier Doug Ford defended a request to use a customized van to get around saying: “I prefer to drive around and talk to the people about things that matter — about creating jobs, lowering taxes, making sure we’re lowering the heating costs, lowering gas prices.” (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)
“I prefer to drive around and talk to the people about things that matter — about creating jobs, lowering taxes, making sure we’re lowering the heating costs, lowering gas prices,” he added, claiming “we don’t have enough people for all the jobs we’ve created.”
The two King Airs are used to fly premiers, the lieutenant governor and cabinet ministers is an eight-seat, twin-engine turboprop with barely five feet of room for passengers to stand. They are operated by the natural resources ministry, which also uses them to shuttle forestry workers.
Natyshak accused Ford of “a lack of respect for taxpayers” in seeking $50,000 in customization on a passenger van, as revealed in court documents this week from a court case fighting the controversial appointment of Ford friend Ron Taverner as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. It is on hold pending an ethics investigation into any political influence in the hiring.
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“The premier asked the OPP to secretly spend over $100,000 on a souped-up man cave on wheels,” the MPP said. “Can the premier explain how equipping a van with a minifridge, a 32-inch television with a Blu-ray player and a leather power-reclining sofa is a cost-cutting measure for the taxpayers?”
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“I requested a used van that is about one-third the cost of the regular Suburban,” Ford replied, referring to the model of Chevrolet SUV typically used by the police force to transport premiers.
Government House Leader Todd Smith later told reporters Ford was “simply inquiring” about getting a customized van and noted “there is no van.”
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“He obviously didn’t like what it was going to cost or he decided not to do it now.”
Natyshak also pressed Ford on his complaints about his rotating OPP security detail, in which the premier reportedly stated just weeks after being elected: “I’ve asked for my own detail of officers that I trust already” and expressing concerns that “I’m getting f-ed around by the OPP and I’m getting more p–ed off.”
The premier brushed aside the New Democrat’s accusations he “demanded special treatment” from the police force whose officers drive Ford to and from home and events and provide security for him.
“I’m speaking for my detail. They’re disgusted right now…if they could run in here right now, each and every one of them would be standing shoulder to shoulder with me. I think they’re incredible.”
Ford’s office has said the premier simply asked for bodyguards with whom he was comfortable and that such a request is “hardly unusual.”
The details about the van request and the security detail complaints were in court filings from Deputy OPP Commissioner Brad Blair, who was passed over for the top job given to Taverner, 72, a veteran Toronto police superintendent.
Blair lawyer Julian Falconer has launched a civil case to force Ontario’s ombudsman to probe the Taverner appointment, which is already the subject of an investigation by provincial integrity commissioner J. David Wake.
He has recently interviewed Ford’s chief of staff Dean French for more than two hours about his role in the hiring, Progressive Conservative sources have told the Star.
An email filed in Blair’s court case suggests French was involved in the search for a new OPP commissioner — in particular, on a hiring panel conducting a second interview with Blair.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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