Despite cancelling the personal cellphone number he once proudly shared with the public, Premier Doug Ford insists anyone can still call him with a problem and expect a response.
Under fire in the legislature from the NDP over allegations of “cash-for-access” charity dinners with wealthy donors, Ford also claimed Tuesday that he cannot be lobbied because he is available to anyone who phones him.
“There is no lobbying. People don’t have to lobby Doug Ford,” the premier said.
“Mrs. Jones can call me about a pothole and I’ll show up to her door,” he said, even though minor road repairs are traditionally handled by municipal governments, not the province.
Ford — who, unlike previous premiers, does not release his daily itineraries — suggested he is immune to the influence of lobbyists.
“They may agree or disagree with me, but every single person in this province knows two things: Doug Ford can’t be bought, and if someone calls Doug Ford to get something fixed, I’ll show up to their door.”
But NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) said the charitable dinners raise “serious questions about who is meeting with the premier and why.”
Natyshak’s question was prompted by a Globe and Mail report last week that guests at the Toronto Police Chief’s Gala bid $20,000 last year for private meals with Ford, with all proceeds going to Victims Services Toronto.
Two firms that donated in exchange for breaking bread with the premier were lobbying his government for provincial business contracts at the time.
Unrepentant, Ford participated in the annual charity auction again last week.
“What’s truly disgusting is that victims of crime and victim services have to publicly fundraise because the Ford government has cut their budget and cut those services to the victims of crime,” Natyshak shot back. “That’s what’s disgusting in this province. Shame on the premier.”
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser questioned Ford’s claim of being easily accessible, saying that “it’s pretty hard to answer the phone when you don’t have one.”
That was a reference to the premier’s decision in July to cancel his personal cellphone, a five-year-old BlackBerry Classic, after being inundated with some 500 calls a day from Ontarians, as well as numerous texts.
“He made the same offer with legal aid and it didn’t pan out, so it’s a lot of bluff and bluster,” said Fraser.
In April, Ford told those affected by his government’s $133-million cut to the budget of Legal Aid Ontario that if they called his office, he “will guarantee you” get a lawyer.
But a CBC investigation last month found that was not the case, with bureaucrats warning the premier should never have weighed in “to ensure that there is no government interference in decisions regarding which cases receive legal aid.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford’s response Tuesday was curious.
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“If he wants to avoid potholes, reducing the climate crisis would certainly help,” said Schreiner.
Ford’s aides said while his private cellphone is still out of service, Ontarians can call the premier’s office if they want to reach out.
While there is a receptionist answering phones, a Star reporter who rang the contact number listed online had his call forwarded straight to voice mail.