Six months after she sat at the premier’s table at his daughter’s wedding, Doug Ford’s cabinet has approved Madeleine Bodenstein for an appointment to the York Region Police Services Board.
She is slated to join Mario Cortellucci, the president of the Cortel Group, his family's development company, on the region’s police oversight board. Cortellucci also sat at the premier’s table at his daughter’s wedding and has deep ties to the Ford family. He was appointed to the board on Oct. 20, less than a month after the wedding.
It won't be Bodenstein's first public appointment: she was also appointed to the province’s Death Investigation Oversight Council as a part-time member on Dec. 1.
Her appointment to York's police board isn't official just yet. The house government agencies committee still has the chance to call her forward to review it.
If called, Bodenstein has one month to appear before the committee and face questions from MPPs. If there's no meeting scheduled, the committee needs to unanimously agree to extend the deadline.
If she doesn't appear — and it's not mandatory for her to — or if the PC MPPs don't give consent to extend the deadline, she's automatically appointed.
PC MPPs on the committee have manoeuvred before to have other controversial appointees avoid appearing for review.
No-shows and not extending deadlines are becoming a "trend" said NDP MPP Doly Begum during a past committee meeting.
"We're seeing a trend in this committee of appointment going through without a hearing whatsoever," she said. "One of the trends I'm noticing is that (the) government over and over and over refuses to provide extensions or call people or allow the opposition that opportunity."
Because the government has a majority on the committee, there's not much the opposition can do.
The York Regional Police Services Board meets at least four times each year.
Provincial appointees get a $9,869 honorarium in 2023 from the Regional Municipality of York, according to a spokesperson for the region. They also get reasonable expenses covered if they have to travel for conferences or training sessions, but not for regular work expected of them, such as attending board meetings.
Before this story was published, Bodenstein hadn't responded to several interview requests on the topic. Ford's office also hadn't responded to a detailed list of questions sent multiple times.
Bodenstein is a realtor and funeral director. She's also on the board of directors of the Reena Foundation, a non-profit Jewish-faith-based organization that provides support for people living with disabilities.
Bodenstein is also a generous Progressive Conservative donor, according to Elections Ontario's registry.
Since 2014, she's given $15,363 to the party, various riding associations and candidates, according to The Trillium's analysis of political donor data. She also gave $1,184 to the Ontario Liberal Party's Willowdale riding association in 2016.
Recipients of Bodenstein's donations include Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma, Associate Mental Health and Addictions Minister Michael Tibollo, Multiculturalism Minister Michael Ford, and Solicitor General Michael Kerzner.
Kerzner's office is responsible for making appointments to police services boards across the province and to the Death Investigation Overnight Council. His office also did not respond to a detailed list of questions before publication.
Kerzner sat on the event committee for Reena’s 2018 gala, along with Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner, a longtime friend to the premier who also attended the premier’s daughter’s wedding.
In 2018, the Ford government named Taverner commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, but he withdrew months later after it was reported that he did not meet the original requirements for the job posting.
Bodenstein and Cortellucci aren’t the only PC insiders who’ve been appointed to police services boards in recent months.
In November, Sarah Letersky was appointed to the Prince Edward County board. Letersky was a communications advisor to then-official Opposition leaders Patrick Brown and Vic Fedeli from March 2017 until the 2018 election.
She became director of communications to then-economic development minister Jim Wilson, and stayed in the role when Todd Smith took over, according to her LinkedIn.
In June 2019, Smith was shuffled to minister of children, community and social services. Letersky followed Smith, and became his chief of staff. In August 2020, she left government and took a senior role with Rubicon Strategy, run by Kory Teneycke, who ran the PC’s 2018 and 2022 election campaigns.
Letersky did not respond to an interview request before this story was published.
Earlier this year, Smith’s Bay of Quinte riding association president, Janet Harnden, was also appointed to the Belleville police board. Harnden runs a music school in the area. The Trillium tried to reach her through the school’s website, but didn’t receive a response before publishing this story.
Former PC MPP Jane McKenna also got an appointment to the Burlington police board this year.
Provincial police board appointees have caused the Ford government controversy in the recent past.
During the trucker convoy’s occupation of downtown Ottawa, reporting by The Trillium’s Charlie Pinkerton revealed that one of the Ford government's Ottawa police board appointees, Robert Swaita, attended the demonstrations.
Shortly afterwards, the province replaced all three provincial appointees.
Police services boards have either three, five, or seven members depending on the size of the area served.
York’s board has seven members. For seven-member boards, the province appoints three members while the local council has control over the other four, according to the rules set out in the Police Services Act. Five-member boards have two provincial appointees. Three-member boards have one.
Provincially appointed police board members often serve for three-year terms and can be reappointed. There’s no official term limit.
Police services boards were created to ensure oversight and accountability, said Kent Roach, a lawyer and professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in criminal justice matters, among other topics.
They provide a measure of democratic control of the police and have some more concrete responsibilities including “hiring the chief of police, doing performance reviews, and establishing policies,” he added.
Roach did not want to comment on specific appointees because he “wouldn't want to suggest that someone who is involved in a political party, or even has been a candidate or a representative, per se, should not be on a board,” he said.
However, when The Trillium shared with Roach its list of all police board appointments since the election, he noted “there’s a lot of people being appointed with ties to the party.”
“It doesn’t mean that they’re unqualified, but it raises some suspicions,” he said. The recent federal Emergencies Act inquiry showed that police board appointments are “important positions and there are real consequences when they fail to do their job properly,” Roach added.
He listed off other reports, including the report on racism at the Thunder Bay board, another report on homophobia in the Toronto Police Service, and others, to show the issue of lack of oversight is decades-old.
Criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said the appointments “look more like awards and favours than a merit-based appointment system.”
Spratt linked some of the police board appointments to reforms the government made to judicial nominations that have spooked many in the legal community.
“There's always the risk that this government, as [Attorney General Doug] Downey has said with respect to judicial appointments, is appointing people who think like them, as opposed to people who are going to do the important work that boards are mandated to do,” he said.
Current Ontario Court Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve is set to retire in May. Downey wants more control over who replaces her. In a 2019 interview with TVO on reforming how justices — not just the chief justice — are picked, Downey said he wanted to ensure they share his "values."
He would not elaborate when asked by The Trillium earlier this year.
"There are two parts to the appointment of judges. One is to decide whether they're qualified or not qualified," Downey said on TVO. "The second part is for me to pick people who reflect some of the values that I have ... and sometimes only I can assess that."