Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has cleared Premier Doug Ford of wrongdoing after developers, described as “personal friends” of the premier, attended a stag and doe party for his daughter’s wedding.
The revelation comes as the Ford government faces questions about whether developers were given advance notice about the controversial decision to remove lands from the Greenbelt, which the premier denies.
The party, however, could raise new questions about the ties between Ford and developers and how that played into the decision to allow homebuilding on some land previously protected by the Greenbelt.
Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Premier Ford, called the story “baseless and unsubstantiated inferences and innuendo about the premier and his family” and indicated the government took steps to ensure the event fell within ethical lines.
“The Integrity Commissioner was engaged and found no wrongdoing.”
Yelich also said, “The premier’s daughter and son-in-law are private citizens. Their wedding day and events leading up to it are private and deeply personal and have nothing to do with this government.”
Invitation to a party
The invitations came in the form of text messages and emails that, sources tell Global News, included a flyer.
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Sources say the digital flyer was sent by people connected to Ford and who previously worked for him.
The invitation, the sources say, was to a party in early August at the Ford family home — a sprawling Etobicoke property that has played host to Ford fests, Progressive Conservative caucus parties and a slew of other events.
Multiple sources with associations to the Progressive Conservative cause in Ontario, who say they received one of those invitations, told Global News they were being asked to attend a stag and doe party to raise money for the premier’s daughter, who was set to be married in the summer of 2022.
The invitation, one source said, came with a request to make a donation to the couple of up to $1,000 and seemed “very dodgy” at the time.
Global News has not independently viewed the digital flyers, which were referenced by multiple, unconnected sources. Inquiries made by Global News to people said to have sent the invitations were not answered.
However, multiple people who say they received direct invitations, raised concerns to Global News about the gathering, and shared their discomfort with being invited and with the overall optics of the event.
Sources tell Global News invitees were “browbeaten” into buying tickets, while large and small lobbying and government relations firms were asked to purchase tickets at $150 each, which meant they were eligible for a number of door prizes, including a Vespa scooter.
Some who said they were invited and who spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, expressed discomfort with attending the event.
Another source who says they received an invitation dubbed the party as a “pay for play” event and questioned the ethics of attending the stag and doe.
“I don’t want to be seen trying to gain influence by paying for his daughter’s wedding,” the source said.
“Why would I put that at risk?” the source said of their career and reputation in the industry.
A Thursday night stag and doe
The event on Aug. 11 has been described by Premier Ford as a stag and doe party for his daughter.
A stag and doe is generally a pre-wedding event where games, raffles and other activities are used to fundraise and help pay for a couple’s wedding.
Common activities to raise money include entry tickets, raffles and even auction events.
“That has been very lucrative,” said one conservative source of the Aug. 11 event.
While Global News was unable to confirm the guest list — sources were reluctant to name any attendees — multiple conservative sources said developers from the Greater Toronto area received an invitation to attend.
The fact that developers attended was confirmed by Premier Ford in a statement made to the Integrity Commissioner about “personal friends” who were guests.
One source, who said they were invited but did not attend, said they were aware the party was a “fundraiser” and knew of developers who were invited. The source wouldn’t specify which developers.
A spokesperson for housing minister Steve Clark, who is facing an ethics investigation over the Greenbelt decision, said “Minister Clark did not attend any such events.”
Race to the Integrity Commissioner
In January, the premier’s office received an inquiry about the party, which seemed to trigger a conversation between the premier’s office and the integrity commissioner, months after the actual event took place.
“Last week, the premier and staff in his office provided information to the integrity commissioner about certain guests who attended the wedding and stag and doe party of the premier’s daughter and son-in-law,” the integrity commissioner’s office said in a statement to Global News on Feb. 2.
“The premier confirmed that those guests, identified as developers, are personal friends.”
In response to follow-up questions, the integrity commissioner’s office said its statement was linked to specific questions.
“This Office is aware that the request for an opinion was linked to questions from a journalist to the premier’s office about certain guests who attended the premier’s daughter’s wedding and may have attended another pre-wedding event,” the spokesperson said. “The opinion was about the individuals who were named in the media inquiry to the premier’s office.”
The information provided to the commissioner would have remained confidential, the commissioner said, but the premier’s office waived confidentiality to share key details about the event and the premier’s defence.
Integrity Commissioner clears Premier Ford
The commissioner determined that since the premier said he had “no knowledge of gifts” and that there was “no discussion of government business,” Ford was in the clear.
“The Commissioner issued an opinion that there was nothing to indicate non-compliance with the Members’ Integrity Act related to these events,” the commissioner said in a statement to Global News.
“The premier had no knowledge of gifts given to his daughter and son-in-law,” the commissioner said. “And that there was no discussion of government business.”
Since 1988, when the integrity commissioner’s office was established, staff say it has received more than 9,000 requests for opinions from MPPs. In the last full fiscal year alone, 277 such requests were made. The spokesperson said it would be “impossible” to determine if a similar opinion to the stag and doe event had ever been requested or issued.
“I would like to reiterate that the majority of requests are related to the official duties and activities of MPPs,” the spokesperson said. “If a question concerned a friend, it would likely be in connection with an official decision, duty, or activity of the member.”
The spokesperson added, “I am not aware of any of these being similar to the scenario you have described.”
While the premier’s office failed to answer specific questions from Global News including questions about the appropriateness of the event and the amount of money raised and from whom, a spokesperson underscored the fact that Ford had been cleared.
The integrity commissioner found no wrongdoing, Yelich said in an email. She said that Ford’s daughter is a private citizen and her “wedding day and events leading up to it are private and deeply personal and have nothing to do with this government.”
Integrity commissioner declines Greenbelt complaint
News of the stag and doe comes as the Ford government faces fierce criticism, and a series of investigations, into its decision to open land in Ontario’s Greenbelt for development.
Late in 2022, the province announced plans to remove 7,400 acres of previously protected land from the Greenbelt as part of its strategy to speed up home construction amid Ontario’s housing affordability crisis. In the wake of that decision, questions were raised about whether certain developers had prior knowledge of the plan, something that Ford and Clark, his housing minister, have denied.
The leaders of Ontario’s Greens, Liberals and NDP put their names to different complaints, while others, including the advocacy group Environmental Defence, approached Ontario Provincial Police.
The integrity commissioner accepted a request on Jan. 18 from Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles to look into whether Clark broke conflict of interest and insider information rules.
The province’s auditor general also released a letter the same day, accepting a call from the leaders of the Ontario Greens, Liberals and NDP for a “value-for-money audit of the financial and environmental implications relating to the government’s recent decisions affecting the Greenbelt.”
However, the integrity commissioner declined a request from Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner to investigate both Ford and Clark. Wake, the integrity commissioner, found that there was “insufficient evidence” to investigate the premier himself on questions of whether developers were given a heads-up before portions of the Greenbelt were removed in December.
In his report to the Ontario legislature, Wake questioned the conflict-of-interest concerns raised by Schreiner and determined he didn’t have enough evidence to launch a full-scale probe.
“It is entirely possible that someone may have alerted one or more of the owners of the affected lands about the changes to the Greenbelt plan and the decision as to which lands would be selected,” Wake’s report stated. “I note that both the premier and the minister denied having done so.”
Wake added that he wasn’t presented evidence that “either the premier or the minister advanced their private interests” by approving the changes made to the Greenbelt.
At the time, Cody Welton, a deputy chief of staff to Premier Ford, slammed the complaint from the Green Party as “another baseless opposition complaint against the premier.”