November 29, 2023

As government lawyers attempt to shield Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s personal cellphone records from being publicly released, new documents show several prominent ministers in his cabinet had large stretches of inactivity on their official devices when critical government decisions were being made.

Freedom of information requests submitted by Global News in August show the then-ministers of education, finance, health, housing and transportation made either no phone calls or used very few minutes on their government-issued devices during crucial moments in their ministries.

The phone records requested by Global News covered a one-month period for each minister over the past year when they were involved in a significant government decision.

One minister made zero phone calls on their government-issued device during that one-month period, while the others made between one and 20 minutes worth of phone calls from their work devices.

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All five ministers said in-person meetings and other forms of communication like Microsoft Teams were behind the lack of calls.

Sylvia Jones, who serves as both the Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, had the least activity on her phone, according to government records. During January 2023, Jones did not make a single call from her government cellphone.

At the time, Jones had announced sweeping changes to how health care is delivered in Ontario and tapped private, for-profit clinics to take on an expanded role.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce also rarely used his official phone while working on key negotiations with education workers and navigating a wildcat strike in November 2022, according to the records.

A cellphone bill for the minister shows a total of one minute in phone calls made while he was involved in union-related legislation, press conferences and negotiations.

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A spokesperson for Lecce argued the lack of minutes in the minister’s phone was a result of the fact conversations with striking education workers were carried out through a negotiator and many briefings took place in person.

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

Doug Ford hands out personal number at Empire Club

A few months later in March 2023, the documents show that Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy made only two minutes of calls as he was he finalizing Ontario’s budget.

Bethlenfalvy’s office said the lack of calls came from the fact that budget discussions take place either in person or via a government video link.

The final two ministers — former housing minister Steve Clark and former transportation minister Caroline Mulroney — made 20 minutes of calls each in a single month.

Global News obtained Clark’s phone bill for November 2022 when he announced controversial changes to Ontario’s Greenbelt and Mulroney’s in April 2023, when the province admitted a slew of issues with the Eglinton LRT.

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Ministers say rules being followed

All five ministers said they and their staff were following record-keeping and release rules. All said the low or non-existent number of minutes used was because they used alternative communications, including in-person meetings and video platforms like Microsoft Teams.

The new list of near-dormant government phones comes as lawyers with the Ministry of the Attorney General work to shield Ford’s personal cellphone from publication.

Global News previously reported four separate months where Ford — who regularly hands out his cell phone number while attending events as premier — made no calls on his work phone.

Officials have admitted the premier is using his personal phone for work but argue separating personal calls from work would be too arduous to be reasonable, and say the premier has not given staff access to his phone.

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Global News is in the midst of an appeal to access government-related calls made by Ford on his personal phone.

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