Faced with the sobering prospect of being ejected from his own game, Mayor Rob Ford has expressed what he’s now hoping will happen after his conflict appeal is heard in Courtroom 3 at Osgoode Hall on Monday. “Hopefully I’ll win the appeal,” he told Newstalk 1010 last week, “and if I don’t, then [hopefully] I get appointed.”
No mayor in Toronto’s modern history has had to harbour hopes like those. And no council has faced the kind of uncertainty that now pervades city hall.
On the eve of a court hearing that could change everything, councillors insist they are focused on pressing city business, such as the 2013 budget, the casino consultation and the hobbled state of the Gardiner. But the rancour and rampant speculation about the political fallout has become impossible to tune out. “The tone of the dialogue is just so toxic,” sighed Trinity-Spadina councillor Mike Layton, “I can’t imagine a place that’s worse than this.”
In November, Justice Charles Hackland lobbed a legal grenade into city hall when he ruled that Mr. Ford should be removed from office for breaking a conflict-of-interest law intended to prevent council members from participating in debates and votes on items in which they have a “direct or indirect” financial stake. Mr. Ford cast a vote last February during a council debate over whether he should be compelled to reimburse $3,150 in donations to his family football foundation solicited from several registered lobbyists and firms doing business with the city.
If the divisional court upholds Justice Hackland’s ruling, its decision will be final, said municipal lawyer Ron Kantor. (A court official said Friday the appeal panel will be Regional Senior Justice Edward Then, Justice Lynne Leitch and Justice Katherine Swinton.) Barring further legal machinations, Mr. Ford would have to relinquish the chain of office. Should council decline to appoint Mr. Ford back to office, these events will trigger a leadership vacuum on council that could take months and possibly millions of taxpayer dollars to resolve.
The case traces back to a run-in between Mr. Ford and Toronto integrity commissioner Janet Leiper. During a 2010 investigation, she concluded that he had used city staff and council letterhead to solicit donations from registered lobbyists, thereby running afoul of council’s code of conduct.
During the final session of Mr. Miller’s term, in August, 2010, council backed Ms. Leiper’s recommendation to fine Mr. Ford. But as mayor, Mr. Ford has refused to comply, despite attempts by Ms. Leiper to enforce the decision. She wrote to him seven times asking whether he had yet reimbursed the funds.
She submitted a follow-up report in council last February, again recommending that he return the money. During the debate, Mr. Ford denied ever handling the funds. He voted as part of a majority on a motion to reverse the August, 2010, decision to impose the fine.
Paul Magder, a Toronto IT manager, launched the court action after reading a news report about the debate. The ensuing trial took place over two days in September, and featured a long and often torturous cross-examination of the mayor, who seldom sits still for questions from the media. The fact that Mr. Ford didn’t seek to have the courts overturn the original fine and subsequently ignored Ms. Lieper’s entreaties provided Mr. Ruby with considerable legal ammunition to characterize the mayor as contemptuous of the laws governing council.
That line of argument took. In his November ruling, Justice Hackland criticized Mr. Ford’s “dismissive and confrontational attitude to the Integrity Commission and the Code of Conduct.” He allowed that the legal penalties for conflict-of-interest charges were harsh, and perhaps ought to be reformed by the Ontario legislature at some later date. Still, in Justice Hackland’s view, Mr. Ford broke the rules as they currently exist, and did so with a certain recklessness. “In my opinion,” he wrote, “the respondent’s actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness.”