The indefatigably controversial Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, will face a moment of truth next Wednesday when he appears before an Ontario Superior Court judge to face allegations that he violated the province’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. If the judge rules against him, Mr. Ford will be summarily thrown out of office. This is a drastic outcome that does not correspond proportionately to the allegations. Furthermore, to unseat a democratically elected mayor so easily would set a terrible precedent.
This mess was characteristically brought about by Mr. Ford himself: He puzzlingly did not recuse himself on Feb. 7 during a city council vote that concerned him in his personal capacity. The council had, 18 months earlier, ordered Mr. Ford to pay back $3,150 in improper donations to his charitable football foundation from lobbyists and their clients. Now, council was voting to overturn its previous decision, but not only did Mr. Ford vote for the new motion, he also gave a speech in its defence. A private citizen who worked for one of Mr. Ford’s political opponents seized on this and alleged that the Mayor had violated the conflict of interest rules.
That the Mayor would act so ill-advisedly is no longer a surprise. Mr. Ford has proved to be singularly unmanageable. He has had unnecessary run-ins with reporters, TV comedians and streetcar drivers; most recently he was photographed reading office documents while driving his car.
But he has been a successful mayor in more important ways. He was elected to cut costs, rein in the city’s unions and eliminate the city’s unpopular car registration fee, all of which he has done. And what matters in this case is that the money in question did not benefit him directly; it went to a charity to buy football equipment for under-privileged youths. As well, his vote did nothing to change the outcome; the motion carried by a wide majority. There is nothing here that would justify having a court overturn the democratic will of voters; this is not a criminal matter and should not be perceived as one. One hopes that Mr. Ford, when facing the judge next week, will realize that his intemperate style can have disastrous consequences and resolve to tone it down. But his actions to date do not merit the upending, by a court, of the hallowed primacy of a democratic election result.
Note to readers This editorial has been modified to reflect the following correction: The Toronto City Council motion, concerning which Mayor Rob Ford is alleged to have had a conflict of interest, was passed. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version.