Doug Ford still using personal phone as transparency battle over call log continues |

Doug Ford still using personal phone as transparency battle over call log continues |

Doug Ford still using personal phone as transparency battle over call log continues  |

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is continuing to give his personal cell number to people, saying he will make government ministers and municipal leaders help to address their problems, even as lawyers for the premier fight to keep his call records secret and argue they are not related to official business.

The Ford government has been locked in a battle with Global News over the premier’s personal cellphone for more than a year, refusing to release government-related records from the device and arguing the request is a breach of privacy.

While that battle has continued and grown in front of a provincial privacy watchdog — most recently with the inclusion of lawyers for the premier personally, not just the government — Ford has continued his very public use of his unofficial phone number.

Most recently, at the end of June, Ford read his number out during an appearance at Toronto Pearson International Airport, urging anyone who “needs help” to text or call his personal number.

Story continues below advertisement

“Get your cellphones out because I’m going to give you my cell number and this is going to go on TV,” the premier said to a group of airport workers and gathered media.

“I get about 300 messages every single day and I’ll do my very best (to reply). You don’t have to text me, ‘Great to see you’ because it just adds on to my 300 messages. But if your family needs help, if you need help, your friends, your neighbours, whatever it is, I handle everything.”

Ford went on to explain that when issues are raised with him on his personal phone, he involves other levels of government, ministers in his own cabinet and MPPs to work on solutions.

“Municipal issues, I pass it onto our municipal partners, federal — our federal partners have been fabulous and provincial issues I keep all my MPPs and ministers going all day long,” he said.

The premier repeated a similar spiel at an Ontario Real Estate Association at the end of 2023, reading his personal phone number to a room filled with real estate industry figures.

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford hands out personal number at Empire Club'

Doug Ford hands out personal number at Empire Club

Ongoing transparency battle

The phone number Ford read out at the airport and at the real estate event is one that lawyers for both the provincial government and the premier himself are working to block from release.

Story continues below advertisement

Since the end of 2022, Global News has been engaged in a transparency battle with the Ford government over the premier’s personal cellphone. Separate freedom of information requests revealed Ford’s government phone was not used for at least four months in 2021 and 2022, while the premier has repeatedly been filmed handing out a personal phone number.

Despite Ford using his personal phone for government work, a freedom of information request to view one week of call logs for the personal phone number at the height of an education strike in November 2022 was denied by the government.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world
sent to your email, as it happens.

That request was appealed and has been the subject of multiple rounds of arguments in front of an adjudicator between Global News and the Cabinet Office, the branch of government that manages records for the premier’s office.

The government initially argued it was “speculative” and “hypothetical” to suggest the premier was using his personal phone for government business. Later, they acknowledged that “the premier’s personal cell phone number has been made publicly available on occasion and that he uses his personal cell phone.”

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said that because the premier is “announcing widely and broadly” how to contact his personal phone number it should be considered an official phone.

“He’s offering that as premier — as a member of the government,” he said. “So all the calls, the phone logs and if someone contacted him by text, those texts are all public records and the public has a right to see them.”

Story continues below advertisement

In the fall of 2023, lawyers for Ford personally were also asked to submit arguments to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commission, the province’s transparency watchdog.

It is unclear how many hours government lawyers have devoted to withholding the premier’s personal cellphone from publication, nor how much that may have cost.

In response to a recent freedom of information request from Global News, the attorney general’s office said it had not retained any external lawyers to work on the submissions for the transparency battle. Officials would not say how many hours government lawyers had spent working on the appeal.

‘Most transparent premier in the history of this province’

Ford’s use of his personal cellphone has sparked fury from opposition critics but has been vocally supported by some in his party.

At a recent committee hearing, Progressive Conservative House Leader Steve Clark said the fact Ford hands his personal number to so many people shows he is transparent.

Story continues below advertisement

“He’s the most transparent of any premier in the history of this province,” Clark said at the end of June. “Most people have his personal phone number, he’s accessible.”

Conacher said Ford’s liberal use of his personal phone should not be accepted.

“The premier should not be saying, by giving out his personal number, that it’s OK to do this, that it’s OK to do government business on a private device, a personal device.”

Global News previously reported that several of Ford’s most senior government ministers also rarely used their work devices — with no more than 20 minutes used by any of the selected ministers on their work devices over a full month.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the premier was “fighting tooth and nail” to keep his personal phone log secret.

“Whether it’s the Greenbelt scandal, his schemes to shut down the Science Centre, or turn Ontario Place into a mega spa, Ford’s first priority is always his insiders,” Stiles said.

“Ontarians deserve real transparency about Doug’s phone calls with his wealthy insiders who are writing government policies.”

Bonnie Crombie, Ontario Liberal leader, said that “the only phone calls Doug Ford picks up are the ones from his rich friends and insiders.”

Story continues below advertisement

Later in July, Global News is expecting a decision from Ontario’s transparency watchdog over the next steps in the cellphone appeal. The impending decision will not cover whether or not the premier must release his phone log but will shape the rules around how much of the battle can be public.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Scroll to Top