EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Premier Doug Ford has promised to fix the process that led to several Progressive Conservative MPPs, staff, donors and other party loyalists receiving the King's Counsel honourific that his government revived a few weeks ago, which has been widely denounced as a patronage scheme.
Attorney General Doug Downey reinstituted the King's counsel designation on June 30, right before the Canada Day long weekend. The title hadn't been assigned by the Ontario government since 1985 when then-premier David Peterson ended the practice for reasons including that it had been used "as a form of political patronage."The list of new recipients from Downey's ministry included some PC ministers, MPPs, conservative stalwarts and himself.
Reporting by the Toronto Star unravelled the various connections between Downey, the PC Party and the recipients.
Downey and Ford were each asked about it at separate media events on Tuesday.
"Should there have been a process, another process, yes," Ford said, and "they're (Downey's office) going to implement it."
"We're going to fix that process," the premier added.
Downey's office has also promised a new nomination process for the titles.
Ford commented on it for the first time during the Council of the Federation meetings in Winnipeg last week. The premier "didn't see" or "approve any list," he said.
On Tuesday, Downey said Ford has "bigger fish to fry" but didn't address whether the premier commented on the proposal when it first went to cabinet for approval, nor would he say whether Ford requested anyone get the title.
"He's got way more things to do than get involved in that," Downey said, speaking publicly for the first time since the scandal erupted.
In a statement on Tuesday, NDP MPP and attorney general critic Kristyn Wong-Tam criticized the government for rewarding "themselves and their donors with fancy new titles" instead of "prioritizing fixes to the justice system."
Wong-Tam called on "each of the Conservative MPPs bestowed with the King’s Counsel title to voluntarily return it."
"If they merit the title and it is important to them, Conservative MPPs can then apply through the transparent process that the Conservatives have promised,” Wong-Tam said.
Despite the criticism he's faced, Downey has stood by the decision.
"I think the people that have received it, you will see, are worthy recipients and I'm glad we did it," he said. "I'm really glad that we brought back the (King's counsel) designation. It's something that brings us in line with other provinces and most of the other Commonwealth."
He also didn't directly address accusations of patronage.
"I think you'll see the string of all those people in service to the Crown and service to communities. I think they're all deserving recipients," Downey said in response to questions he faced at the new Ontario Court of Justice, where he was announcing a $116-million contract being given to Thomson Reuters for a new platform to bring more court services online.
The new "digital justice platform" will allow court users to file more documents, access court case information and decisions, manage court appearances online, and more.