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Ontarians, we’re all living in a Dukes of Hazzard show now

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Lately, whenever I see Ontario Premier Doug Ford on TV I think of Boss Hogg, the villain in The Dukes of Hazzard, a TV series that was popular in my youth.

Boss Hogg was a larger-than-life loudmouth, the sole lawful authority in Hazzard County, a self-dealing villain who was always out to get the good-hearted moonshine-running Duke brothers.

Boss Hogg’s only redeeming feature was his incompetence, which allowed the Duke boys to get the better of him every week, often leaving him in a manure pile or some other undignified position while the Dukes sped off in their souped-up Dodge Charger.

Many of Boss Hogg’s unethical plans came apart when his flunky, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, his naive and bumbling sidekick, somehow messed up, allowing the Duke boys to get away.

RELATED: Premier to Ford Nation: You voted for this, and eventually we’ll tell you what ‘this’ is

Rosco came to mind this week when Ford made his friend Ron Taverner the commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, while denying that he had any role in the process.

Taverner is no Rosco Coltrane, of course. He has had a perfectly fine 50-year career on the Toronto Police Service, but his appointment is such a bad idea that I am filled with wonder at the crude thinking that brought it about.

Police have a monopoly on the lawful use of violence. They are uniquely empowered to stop citizens on the street, snoop on their phones, search their cars, homes and offices, arrest, prosecute and lock them up. Because of that, we cannot afford to have the slightest question about what motivates them.

But there are plenty of reasons to worry about what motivates Taverner, particularly in the very sensitive political files that are waiting on his desk at the OPP’s headquarters in Orillia.

Taverner is a Toronto Police Service superintendent in Etobicoke, in the heart of Ford Nation, where last year he made $186,662.92. At 72, after many years in the same job, he is getting a huge promotion and a $90,000 raise. (The last OPP commissioner made $276,000.)

Taverner must be very grateful to Boss Ford for arranging his late-in-life rise to prominence.

Ford told reporters that he had nothing to do with the decision, but there is no reason to give that statement any weight. He and Taverner are old friends, which raises questions about Taverner’s judgment, given that Ford’s brother was the subject of repeated high-profile police investigations. The Toronto Star reported that police brass did not ask Taverner’s officers to play a role in that investigation although it was taking place on their turf, and Taverner backed a a casino project at the Woodbine Racetrack that the Fords were pushing. Boss Ford says that the committee that selected Taverner was independent, but two of its members report to him and the third was a hired headhunter. Ford did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision to appoint Taverner. And Taverner only qualified for the appointment because the job requirements were mysteriously lowered.

We learned later in the week that Taverner lives in a home that he bought from a Ford associate in a private sale. Why did Taverner get the job?

It does not seem to be as a result of his academic qualifications, which do not compare favourably with his predecessors, or his management experience, which wouldn’t seem to provide him with the experience necessary to run an organization with 7,383 employees, a $1.1-billion budget and serious challenges providing services in remote and Indigenous communities, subjects that Taverner will need to quickly master.

He will also need to study up on the best way to handle sexual harassment complaints from dozens of members, preferably without telling any of them to have a “tough skin,” which he is alleged to have told a female officer who reported to him.

The one obvious thing going for him in the competition was his close friendship with Ford, which raised questions during the police investigation into Rob Ford.

The long friendship between Ford and Taverner is now a matter of urgent public concern, given the enormous power the two men wield and the potential for serious conflicts of interest.

Consider the important role that the OPP played in the prosecution of David Livingston, Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff, who was sentenced to four months in jail for illegally deleting email records related to the disastrous billion-dollar decision to cancel two gas plants in the middle of an election campaign.

Boss Ford has only been in office for five months, but he is accumulating scandals quickly enough to warrant comparison with the 15-year Liberal regime he ousted, incurring steep costs by forcing out people he doesn’t like.

Getting Alykhan Velshi pushed out of Ontario Power Generation only cost $500,000, but forcing out the CEO of Hydro One messed up the planned acquisition of a utility in Washington State, which will cost $185 million.

With these kinds of moves, Ford seems to be trying to wrest control of arm’s length bodies staffed by qualified people and replace them with loyalists, treating Ontario as if it were Hazzard County.

Given his seeming disinclination to properly consult with lawyers before he tears up contracts, he may end up violating some law he doesn’t know or care about—like the record-retention law that Livingston violated—and the file may end up on the desk of Sheriff Rosco P. Taverner.

The public must have confidence in the impartiality of the OPP but can’t have confidence in Taverner. This is not how Ontario ought to be governed.

Taverner can either refuse the job or accept that he will always be viewed with deep suspicion.

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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