Toronto’s integrity commissioner is correct that Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, technically violated City Council’s code of conduct when they slammed the medical officer of health on their local radio talk show. And by issuing her decision, Janet Leiper was simply exercising her responsibilities as set out by council.
But the Fords did what talk show hosts usually do: they mouthed off, they were derisive, they personalized their attack. Should a public servant be empowered to condemn elected officials for the manner in which they exercise their free speech?
It was a shameful performance, particularly from the Mayor, who has a duty to safeguard morale among and respect for city employees. The Fords attacked Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown over a report calling for lower speed limits to protect pedestrians and cyclists (and motorists, for that matter). The Mayor ridiculed Dr. McKeown’s nearly $300,000 salary as “an embarrassment.” His brother asked, “Why does he still have a job?” It is legitimate to question the value of such a report, or its findings, but inappropriate and unfair to Dr. McKeown to personalize the attack in such a way.
Still, it isn’t necessary to have an integrity commissioner say as much. It is is best left to voters to determine whether the Mayor is exercising his free speech responsibly. Members of council may rebuke the mayor if they wish. And he’s accountable to voters once every four years for his behaviour.
Mr. Ford – the Mayor – is wrong in lashing back by declaring that the position of integrity commissioner should be scrapped. He has only to look down the highway toward Montreal to see the costs, financial and otherwise, of a system with no integrity and no commissioner. The city created the office after a computer-leasing scandal that cost it millions of dollars and bred public cynicism. There is no evidence to suggest that office is politically motivated, as the mayor has suggested.
But bureaucratic oversight of the speech of elected officials is a troubling matter.