Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Surma worked during the 2010 election and at Toronto city hall during Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor, but not in his office or campaign.
The Ontario Liberals released an audio recording that appears to implicate Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford and Etobicoke Centre PC candidate Kinga Surma in a scheme to pay for PC memberships in 2016.
Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said the audio released Thursday was an excerpt of a longer recording taken October 2016 while Ford and Surma — then a PC nominee for the area — were speaking with people at a Tim Hortons in Etobicoke.
LISTEN: Audio recording captures Doug Ford offering to buy PC membership
In the grainy recording, which Matthews says was recorded by a male customer, Ford can be heard saying that a PC membership “won’t cost you a thing” as he helps Surma sign up prospective members.
“It doesn’t cost ya anything, we’re just signing people up today. That’s it,” Ford said. “You don’t have to fill that out. She’ll take your name, number; just sign it.”
The Liberals say the recordings call into question the PC leader’s criticism of contentious nominations held under former leader Patrick Brown, and that he has inherited a “mess.” Matthews said her party has authenticated the video but couldn’t provide any details on what steps were taken.
Global News has not been able to verify the recordings.
“He has ducked and deflected. He has blamed his predecessor Patrick Brown for the entire mess,” Matthews said during a press conference. “He has resisted calls to initiate investigations of his own.”
“Mr. Ford was involved directly in the sale of bogus memberships on behalf of Mrs. Surma,” she continued. “He encouraged people to provide incomplete information, incomplete membership forms and he assured them that others would pay their membership fees.”
According to the Liberals, the recordings are evidence that Ford broke PC party rules and violated Ontario election laws against making secret donations. PC memberships cost $10 for one year and must be paid for with individuals’ own funds or those of an immediate family member.
Global News contacted Surma’s campaign office and a spokesperson said they “are taking this very seriously.” An Ontario PC Party spokesperson declined to comment on the press release.
WATCH: Doug Ford dismisses alleged membership scandal as being in the past
Speaking in Tillsonburg, Ont., Ford denied ever paying for individual memberships and said he would not take action against the candidate involved.
“This happened close to two years ago. It went through an appeals process. The appeal was totally dismissed. We are going to be focused on creating jobs,” he said. “This is the Liberals, two weeks before an election, trying to change the channel on their mismanagement, scandal and waste.”
According to a biography posted on Surma’s site, she “began her political career in 2010 working on the Toronto mayoral election which resulted in her being hired at city hall during Rob Ford’s mayorship.”
WATCH: Doug Ford calls Kinga Surma ‘family,’ Liberal-leaked audio ‘desperate’
When asked about his relationship with Surma, Ford said his family has helped candidates in Etobicoke Centre for the last “30 years.”
“The candidate Kinga was running against, we supported her. I personally donated to her campaign. My family helped her. We helped people for 30 years. Again, this is about the Liberals being desperate. Desperate move two weeks prior to the election,” he said.
In the 2014 Toronto election, Surma ran to become the councillor for Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. She came a distant second to Justin Di Ciano. Her biography said she then went to work for Christine Elliott’s 2015 leadership campaign and eventually for Brown.
The PC candidate nominations have become a significant source of controversy in the lead up to the June 7 election, after several of the nominations ended in bitter disputes. Allegations of membership fraud, ballot-box stuffing, ineligible voters and fake memberships have plagued hotly contested nomination races, which Ford has blamed on Brown.
Ford has promised to take action against anyone involved fraudulent memberships or breaking party rules. The Liberals say his actions contradict this pledge.
“If Doug Ford was a candidate himself, like any other, would he not feel obliged to fire himself?” Matthews asked.
The Liberals also released an affidavit by Pina Martino, the riding’s former candidate, who lost the 2016 nomination to Surma. In the sworn statement, Martino accuses Surma and Ford of signing up at least 65 people for party memberships and covering their fees.
Other documents released by Liberals included an e-mail from November 2016 from Martino to a lawyer for party in which she described attempts by Ford to “intimidate” her, including being followed home by Ford.
“According to her he did it on more than one occasion,” Matthews said. “This paints a disturbing picture of Doug Ford, a man who wants to be elected premier of this province, but a man who was also lurking around corners in a hulking black SUV waiting to scare a woman.”
Ford denied following Martino or trying to intimidate her by waiting outside her home in his black SUV saying “that never happened.”
The newly released recordings follow closely on the heels of another Ford campaign controversy, after Tory candidate Simmer Sandhu resigned from a Brampton-area riding after his former employer — the company that owns the 407 highway — revealed that customer data had been stolen.
Sandhu has called the allegations “totally baseless.”
Ontario’s elections watchdog has said it is reviewing whether any PC candidates have used stolen personal data to help their campaigns.
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