Premier Doug Ford and members of his caucus met privately earlier this week while the house remains on winter recess. The two-day meeting held in the Kitchener-Waterloo area was not publicly announced and media were not invited to attend. While party caucus retreats are largely private affairs, it is usual for a governing party to make the event’s occurrence public.
The move to not disclose the retreat comes as Ford and his government face increasing criticism about transparency. The premier’s daily schedule is not public nor are the times and locations of cabinet meetings. The decision to keep these details private is a significant departure from previous administrations. In recent months Ford has faced backlash from the opposition after meetings with Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner and Jordan Peterson, a controversial university professor, were revealed after being conducted privately.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of citizen advocacy group Democracy Watch and Professor of Law and Politics at the University of Ottawa, slammed Premier Ford in an interview with Global News.
“Overall he’s running a secretive government. He’s doing that because he has an agenda that he wants to shove down people’s throats. He doesn’t want them to be aware of it.”
Conacher also voiced concern about future policy decisions.
“If you want to be government for the people, then you have to let the people know what you’re thinking about doing.”
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Simon Jefferies, a spokesperson for the Premier’s Office sent Global News a short statement in response to questions about the retreat and Ford’s calendar. It reads in part; “Private caucus meetings are an important part of our democratic process. The Ontario PC Caucus held a productive caucus retreat in Kitchener-Waterloo as the Government for the People works to make Ontario open for business.”
Jefferies also noted that since being elected Ford has opened up a number of caucus speeches to the media. On the question of disclosing the premier’s daily calendar, Jefferies told Global, “the Premier’s Office informs the media of public events that are photo opportunities or where he will be taking questions from the media, and the premier regularly informs the public about his daily meetings through his social media feeds.”
Conacher was quick to also highlight the premier’s use of social media feeds.
“He’s giving exclusive interviews to the PC Caucus, Ontario News Now. He’s making himself more available to them than the general media.”
The Ontario NDP have their caucus retreat this week in the Durham region. While much of the NDP retreat will be private, they have invited media to attend portions and publicly announced the event though a press release. NDP MPP and Caucus Chair Michael Mantha criticized the government for not doing the same.
“Doug Ford sure likes to do business in secret and behind closed doors. We think people have a right to know, generally, what their elected officials are up to. The premier’s schedule shouldn’t be secret, either. People have a right to know who he’s cooking up backroom deals with.”
The NDP also told Global News they plan on opening up their meeting Friday to about 150 local community leaders.