Doug Ford is still using his personal phone as the battle for phone log transparency continues

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford continues to give people his personal cell phone number and says he will let ministers and municipal leaders help address their problems, even as lawyers for the premier fight to keep his phone records secret, claiming they are not related to official business.

The Ford government has been locked in a battle with Global News over the prime minister’s personal cell phone for more than a year. She refuses to release government data from the device, arguing the request is a violation of privacy.

As that fight has continued and grown for a provincial privacy watchdog — most recently with the addition of lawyers from the premier personally, and not just from the government — Ford has continued his very public use of his unofficial phone number.

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

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“Get out your mobile phones because I’m giving you my mobile number and this is going to be on TV,” the Prime Minister told a group of airport workers and assembled media.

“I receive about 300 messages every day and I will do my utmost (to reply). You don’t have to text me, “Nice to see you,” because it’s just an addition to my 300 messages. But if your family needs help, if you need help, your friends, your neighbors, whatever it is, I’ll take care of everything.”

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

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“Municipal issues, I pass it on to our municipal partners, federal – our federal partners have been fantastic and provincial issues I keep all my MPPs and ministers busy all day long,” he said.

The premier repeated a similar story at an Ontario Real Estate Association in late 2023, reading his personal phone number to a room full of 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 that 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 trying to block from release.

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Since late 2022, Global News has been locked in a transparency battle with the Ford government over the prime minister’s personal cell phone. Separate Freedom of Information requests revealed that Ford’s government phone was not used for at least four months in 2021 and 2022, while the Prime Minister was repeatedly filmed handing out a personal phone number.

Despite Ford using his personal phone for government work, a Freedom of Information request to review a week’s worth of call logs for the personal phone number at the height of a November 2022 education strike was denied by the government.

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That request has been appealed and has been the subject of multiple rounds of arguments before a jury between Global News and the Cabinet Office, the branch of government that manages the documents for the Prime Minister’s Office.

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The government initially argued that it was “speculative” and “hypothetical” to suggest the prime minister used his personal phone for government business. They later acknowledged that “the Prime Minister’s personal cell phone number has occasionally been made public and that he uses his personal cell phone.”

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said that because the prime minister is “advertising widely” how to contact him using his personal phone number, it should be considered an official phone.

“He offers that as prime minister, as a member of the government,” he said. “So all the calls, the phone logs and if someone contacts him by text message, those text messages are all public records and the public has a right to see them.”

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

It is unclear how many hours government lawyers spent trying to stop the prime minister’s personal cell phone from publication, nor how much it cost.

In response to a recent Freedom of Information request from Global News, the attorney general’s office said it had not retained outside lawyers to work on the submissions for the transparency fight. Officials would not say how many hours government attorneys worked on the appeal.

‘Most transparent prime minister in the history of this province’

Ford’s use of his personal cell phone has angered opposition critics but is vocally supported by some in his party.

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

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“He is the most transparent premier in the history of this province,” Clark said in late June. “Most people have his personal telephone number, he is reachable.”

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

“The Prime Minister should not be saying, by releasing his personal number, that it is okay to do this, that it is okay to conduct government business on a private device, a personal device.”

Global News previously reported that several of Ford’s most senior ministers also rarely used their work equipment – with one of the selected ministers using no more than 20 minutes on their work equipment for an entire month.

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

“Whether it’s the Greenbelt scandal, his plans to close the Science Center 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 calls to his wealthy insiders who write public policy.”

Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie said that “the only calls Doug Ford takes are from his wealthy friends and insiders.”

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Later in July, Global News expects a decision from Ontario’s transparency watchdog on the next steps in the cellphone appeal. The upcoming decision will not address whether or not the prime minister should release his phone log, but will set the rules on how much of the fight can be public.

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

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