According to a recent Globe and Mail article, Andy Pringle, a member of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) has decided to recuse himself from any discussions of the Fords at the board.
Pringle, a former chief of staff of John Tory, when Tory was Ontario PC leader, and a current fund-raiser for the Tory mayoral campaign, has been accused by Doug Ford, of being in a conflict of interest.
Doug Ford has demanded that Pringle step down from the board because of the alleged cozy relationship between Pringle, Chief of Police Bill Blair and mayoral candidate John Tory.
Ford further claimed that Pringle put himself in a conflict of interest when he took Chief Blair on a fishing trip to New Brunswick nearly two years ago.
Unfortunately, for Tory’s sputtering campaign, Pringle’s decision to recuse himself does not end this matter.
It raises further questions about Tory’s relationship with Pringle both prior to and during this contentious mayoral campaign, and ultimately John Tory’s judgment in associating with Pringle who is on a board that oversees the Chief of Police’s involvement with the Ford investigation.
In order to understand this tangled web of Blair/Pringle/Tory, here is a little background.
In the summer of 2012, Pringle, as TPSB member, took Chief of Police Blair on a three-day fishing junket at an exclusive and private salmon fishing club, of which Pringle is a member, on the legendary Kedgwick River in New Brunswick.
According to a Toronto Sun article,which in turn referred to a previous Globe and Mail article:
“The Globe story also stated Blair and Pringle ‘drove to New Brunswick in the chief’s car, according to police spokesman Mark Pugash. Chief Blair paid for gas; Mr. Pringle covered the accommodation. The chief landed two large salmon.’
“The cost of the junket is unknown but the lodges along the Kedgwick River are known to be as expensive as they are exclusive.”
Estimated cost for three days and nights per person is on average $15,000, at these exclusive salmon private clubs, according to my recent conversation with the manager of the Kedgwick Lodge.
According to the Toronto Sun article, Blair, Pringle, and police board chair Alok Mukherjee repeatedly failed to respond several times to the Toronto Sun‘s questions about the fishing trip.
However, explanations were provided to other media.
“We were in the middle of, as you’d remember, some tough discussions about reducing the police budget,” Mukherjee told a Toronto Star reporter. “In that context, Mr. Pringle said that maybe some informal sidebar conversations in an informal setting might be useful to sort of persuade the chief to see that he had to deliver on the reduction target.”
Pringle told the Globe and Mail: “I considered it part of my responsibility to find out about the organization I’m a board member of, to get to know the issues and challenges better,” and “I don’t see that as unusual.”
In a more recent Globe article, Pringle provided further explanations for taking Blair on this junket in a letter obtained by the Globe.
“Inviting the Chief on the fishing trip resulted, in my view, in forging a better and more productive professional relationship for the benefit of the organization we both serve. I did not consider then and do not consider now that my doing so created any conflict of interest,” Mr. Pringle wrote.
Mr. Pringle further said he covered the cost of the trip, saying he felt it “inappropriate” to ask for compensation from someone he oversees, and noted that he informed Mr. Mukherjee beforehand.
These above facts raise several troubling questions. The explanations for Pringle’s largesse is all over the map, from better understanding the police organization to negotiating a significant reduction in the proposed police budget.
It is very troubling that despite numerous requests by the media the true costs of this very expensive fishing junket were never disclosed. Which makes me suspect that the parties involved are very embarrassed about how much was paid for this junket on the Chief’s behalf.
Recall a recent CBC radio panel discussing the ethics of Peter Mansbridge accepting a fee for speaking at an oil and gas conference. The unanimous view was that Mansbridge should not have received any financial benefit. I believe this same CBC panel would have the same view in this Pringle/Blair matter.
Which leads to the next troubling aspect of this matter.
By paying for such a lavish fishing junket did Pringle hope to gain access to the Chief, informally, with respect to matters that may one day benefit his friend and former boss John Tory vis a vis the Toronto police investigation of Mayor Ford?
Were there any ethical or moral breaches here? I leave that to others to come to their own conclusions. But I believe Salmongate looks bad and appears very fishy.
And John Tory knew, or should have known, that these questions would be asked of him and his campaign.
John Tory is running on the basis that he is not Rob Ford. In other words, he is claiming he is more ethical, principled and has more integrity. Accordingly, if Tory is in fact true to his principles, Tory has an obligation to seek full disclosure from Pringle about Salmongate — especially regarding how much Pringle paid on behalf of Chief Blair, what was actually discussed, and what the real purpose of this junket was.
In my opinion, Tory has a further obligation to fully disclose publicly the nature of all his conversations with Pringle, pertaining to Mayor Ford in the last year in order to allay any concerns about Tory’s judgment in associating with Pringle, and to rebut a presumption that Tory and his campaign may have benefited from informal knowledge regarding the Ford investigation through his relationship with Andy Pringle.