Garry GreenAdvocate Columnist
Based on political preference, people have either declared Mayor Ford’s recent guilty verdict to be a minor transgression in support of a charitable cause, or an abuse of power worthy of losing the job that 383,501 Torontonians elected him to do.
According to Ford Nation, Mayor Ford may have erred using City letterhead to fundraise in support of the Rob Ford Football Foundation. They claim that he did so to provide youth with football equipment that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. He did it “for a good cause” and his passion for the sport and for the kids is laudable and should be commended. They allege that the trial that found him guilty of contravening the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act was due to the left wing’s zeal to get rid of the Mayor. Further, they feel that for a judge to overturn the electorate’s decision is to rob them of democracy.
The Mayor’s detractors counter that the judge, Justice Charles Hackland is a seasoned adjudicator who does not choose sides. They further state that the case would not have resulted in a guilty verdict without sufficient evidence. The laws are in place to protect voters and provide a check and balance in the system to prevent larger scale corruption.
The verdict actually resulted from a municipal voter, Paul Magder, bringing a conflict of interest case against Mayor Ford in September. The case was not because the Mayor (in his previous role as Councillor) used City letterhead to secure donations for his football foundation, but because he debated and voted on a matter pertaining to his financial interest, in violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
Council had voted in August, 2010 that Council approve the Integrity Commissioner’s report, stating that Ford pay back donations to his namesake foundation, totalling $3,150. The concern was that the perception may be that donors who gave to his charity may be entitled to special privileges. Further, Mayor Ford trumpeted his accomplishments with the Football Foundation and used this to gain additional esteem among voters.
The vote to repay was accepted without debate. A motion was then put forward for reconsideration of the initial decision. The motion was also defeated. The then Councillor chose to vote on the motion even though it represented a financial interest for him. The then Speaker, Sandra Bussin, asked Ford, “Councillor Ford, this matter deals with an issue regarding your conduct. Do you intend to declare a conflict?.” Ford voted anyway.
Further, in spite of being ordered to repay, Ford chose not to. He received 6 written reminders from the Integrity Commissioner and ignored every one of them. Had he continued just to ignore the Integrity Commissioner, there likely would not have been significant repercussions for him. There would likely have been a censure against him, a more symbolic than significant outcome.
However, in February, 2012, Councillor Ainslie orchestrated a vote to overturn the previous decision of Council from August, 2010. At this vote, Ford proceeded to speak passionately about his football foundation and why he shouldn’t have to repay the money. He then proceeded to vote on the motion, resulting in the previous council decision being overturned.
It was on the grounds of these votes in a matter that pertained to his financial interest that the Mayor was found guilty.
The decision from Justice Hackland was that the Mayor was to be removed from office pending a stay to December 10, 2012, providing an opportunity to seek out a further stay. The Mayor’s legal team has since received an extension to the stay allowing him to stay in office until an appeal is hear in January by a 3 judge panel.
If the decision is upheld, there will have been 4 neutral adjudicators who have found the Mayor’s conduct in contravention of the Act and then there should be agreement that there is fault worthy of the repercussions. Otherwise, he will be found not guilty and he will have had access to due process.
Even if found guilty, Council can decide to let the “people” have the final decision by way of a bi-election. Then it will be our choice whether this is a minor fender bender for Ford or if he is a write off. I think we can all agree that is the way it should be.