The Ontario Liberal party alleges that audio it says it obtained and verified shows Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford broke election rules by participating in “bogus” membership sales for his party’s nomination in Etobicoke Centre in 2016.
In excerpts of the audio played during a press conference held by MPP Deb Matthews on Thursday, Ford is heard telling people, allegedly at an Etobicoke Tim Hortons, that signing up for the party “doesn’t cost ya anything” and that they “don’t even have to vote” if they sign up.
The allegations are connected to Etobicoke Centre PC candidate Kinga Surma who was running in the riding.
Read a transcript of the audio recording below.
Matthews said that by Ford telling the potential members that signing up for the membership without having to pay violates election laws.
“When Mr. Ford tells people he can sign them up to be Conservative members free of charge, that means someone else is paying and that violates election laws against making secret donations,” Matthews explained.
“It also means the person making the secret donation may well have broken the elections act by making contributions over the legal limit.”
The cost to join the PC party is $10.
Ford addressed the Liberal accusations at an event Thursday in Tillsonburg and was asked directly about paying for memberships. He dismissed the allegations saying they had already been investigated and went through an appeals process. He said, “This goes back almost two years ago, the claims were dismissed. This is the Liberals trying to change the channel two weeks before an election.”
Matthews said that although Ford doesn’t say he is paying for the membership, the conversation implies that someone other than the perspective member will be paying.
Matthews also said they were released communications from Surma’s rival in the nomination that describe Ford’s efforts to intimidate her on more than one occasion – including one occasion where the candidate apparently claims Ford followed her home. Although Matthews didn’t mention her name, the other PC candidate running in Etobicoke Centre was Pina Martino.
“To say the least, this paints a disturbing picture of Doug Ford, a man who wants to be elected premier of this province but a man who is also lurking around corners in a hulking black SUV waiting to scare a woman.”
Doug Ford addressed the accusations involving Pina Martino claiming, “That never happened. Again, this is the Liberals two weeks before the election trying to change the channel.”
Matthews said the Liberals are calling on Ford to explain his actions and to honour his own word to take swift action for people caught up in conduct surrounding membership sales.
According to Matthews, the person who sent the audio to the Liberal party wants to remain anonymous but that his voice is heard on the audio.
“This is a person who was interested to see what was going on. He recognized Doug Ford and he captured that information,” she said.
Surma captured the PC nomination in Etobicoke Centre in November 2016, drawing praise from Brown for her experience working at all three levels of government and for “being a tireless Conservative activist.”
Ford was asked about his relationship with Surma and said “Our family helped her, our family helped her, in Etobicoke Centre, we helped people for 30 years. This is about the Liberals being desperate.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath reacted to the allegations Thursday saying Ford needs to be upfront with the people of Ontario. Horwath said he has, “a lot to answer for and it speaks directly to the values that Mr. Ford holds and I think that’s something Ontarians needs to get a sense of. There are two many questions and the questions continue to grow everyday
She called the accusations a “worrysome state of affairs.”
When asked if there are grounds for resignation if Ford is implicated, Horwath said, “I think the question on the minds of voters – is that the kind of premier we want in the chair? Is that the value system we want the person in office to hold? I know what my response is. But that’s not my decision to make, that is the decision of Ontario.”
Ford has been under attack since allegations surfaced last week that Tory candidates may have used stolen customer information obtained as part of a data breach from a toll highway operator.
The controversy has already resulted in Brampton East candidate Simmer Sandhu’s abrupt resignation shortly after 407 Express Toll Route issued a statement about what it called an “internal theft of customer data” affecting 60,000 people.
Sandu was a former employee of the company.
When asked if the stolen data was used by some candidates to win nomination races, Ford said the party was “looking into this” and that questions on other candidates would have to be directed to them.
“This goes back to Patrick Brown,” Ford said at a campaign event last weekend. “You want to get answers on this, Patrick Brown was the leader under this whole group of people.”