Doug Ford’s government phone unused for 3 months as transparency calls grow

Click to play video: 'Ontario NDP files new complaint with integrity commissioner after Global News story'
Ontario NDP files new complaint with integrity commissioner after Global News story
RELATED: Premier Doug Ford is facing a new integrity commissioner complaint over the use of his private cell phone for government business, a practice that is against the rules for public officials. Global News' Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D’Mello reports – Aug 16, 2023

As the Ontario NDP increases its calls for civil servants and privacy officials to look into Premier Doug Ford’s use of his personal cell phone, Global News can confirm a new three-month period during the pandemic in which he failed to make or receive a single call on his government device.

On Friday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles sent two new letters calling for investigations and transparency after the Ontario auditor general’s investigation into the Ford government’s Greenbelt land swap.

The report found a select few developers with access to the government benefited from the decision to remove land. The auditor general found the decision was made on a three-week timeline by a team of six people, who were handed most of the parcels to remove from the Greenbelt by a political chief of staff.

Ford admitted his government “could have had a better process.”

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The auditor general also scolded staff for using personal email addresses to communicate and “regularly” deleting emails. On Tuesday, a Global News investigation suggested Ford was using his personal phone for government work.

As pressure from the opposition mounts, Global News can reveal Ford failed to make or receive any calls on his government-issued device for three months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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New freedom of information records show that in November 2020 and in January and February 2021, Ford’s government phone was not used for any phone calls. The freedom of information request was obtained — but not filed — by Global News.

“Any incoming and outgoing calls made during the billing period would have appeared on the monthly bill,” a privacy staffer wrote, explaining the records.

“In this case, the phone bills indicate that there were no calls during the billing periods in question.”

The records do show just over a gigabyte of data was charged to the phone for a bill dated Feb 1, 2021.

Global News contacted Ford’s office for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

The freedom of information request also asked for records of calls made from Ford’s office landline; the province did not disclose any documents relating to that phone.

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On Friday, Stiles wrote the Information and Privacy Commissioner asking them to look into the auditor general’s reporting that political staff were “regularly” deleting emails. She also asked the commissioner to consider the suggestion Ford is using his personal phone for government business.

“The Opposition believes that these facts constitute a troubling pattern of behaviour by this government, demonstrating a pervasive disregard for record-keeping and transparency, and perhaps even intentional attempts to avoid public scrutiny. We believe that this warrants your attention and action,” Stiles wrote.

In a separate letter to the head of Ontario’s civil service, Stiles asked them to ensure all records relating to the Greenbelt — including on personal phones, through messaging services or on social media — are preserved.

Global News reported how Ford gave his phone number to stakeholders at the Empire Club in June, one example of the premier using his personal phone number as part of his brand of retail politics.

Staff confirmed the phone number Ford gave out at the Empire Club was his personal device. Officials have refused to release its records through a freedom of information request. That request is currently being considered by an adjudicator at appeal.

The Ontario NDP has also asked the integrity commissioner to expand his ongoing Greenbelt probe to consider Ford’s personal phone records.

The province’s ethics watchdog has been conducting a months-long investigation into whether Housing Minister Steve Clark breached ethics rules over the decision to open select portions of the Greenbelt for development — benefiting a handful of Ontario developers, some of whom have donated directly to Premier Doug Ford.

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The integrity commissioner’s office confirmed it had received the request from Stiles to expand the report.

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