The desire to remove Mayor Rob Ford from office before his term runs out is natural enough. After all the fun and games of the past year, it is sobering to think that voters won’t have a chance to pass judgment on him again until Monday, Oct. 27, 2014 – another 956 days, if you’re counting. Ah, for the times when a Toronto mayor held office for only two years at a time.
Driven into a froth by the mayor’s antics, his critics are dreaming up all sorts of ways to cut his tenure short. One overexcited newspaper columnist said he wished the mayor were subject to recall, like a faulty automobile. Never mind that Ontario law has no provision for recall votes. A small group of anti-Ford activists, meanwhile, are chewing on the mayoral pant leg for what they say are violations of election and conflict-of-interest rules.
This is the wrong way to get at Mr. Ford. So far, at least, no one has proved that he tried to line his own pockets or pervert the course of the 2010 election. By going after the mayor on technical issues, instead of fighting him on the facts, his foes are giving him a chance once again to play the victim – the champion of the little guy besieged by pettifogging critics. Far wiser to beat him where it counts: in the court of public opinion and, ultimately, at the ballot box.
That’s not to say that Mr. Ford is blameless in all this. As a city councillor for 10 years, and since then as mayor, he has shown a consistent contempt for the rules that govern ordinary mortals.
Consider the case of his football charity. Mr. Ford supports and coaches high-school football. His aim is to help troubled youth. Good on him, but the way he raises money is a problem.
In March, 2010, just before kicking off his campaign for mayor, he solicited donations to the Rob Ford Football Foundation under his City of Toronto letterhead. After a complaint, Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper found that he had breached a rule prohibiting councillors from using the influence of their office for anything but official business. She also found that lobbyists, and one company that does business with the city, were among the donors to the foundation.
The difficulty is obvious. City councillors can’t be seeking favours from lobbyists – even if the favour is a donation to a good cause – because the lobbyists might seek something in return. As Ms. Leiper dryly put it: “Lobbyists are often coming to ask you for things.” That is why councillors have to separate their private and public interests. Murky behind-the-scenes dealing led directly to the computer-leasing scandal that hit city hall in the early 2000s.
City council told the mayor to make up for his fundraising infraction by repaying donors a total of $3,150. He never did. When the issue came to council again last month, councillors decided to give him a break and drop the whole thing. But Mr. Ford made the mistake of getting up and speaking, then voting, on the issue in his own favour. That, says citizen Paul Magder and his lawyer Clayton Ruby, put the mayor in violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. It requires elected officials to stay out of a vote when they have a financial interest in the outcome. If a judge finds against him, Mr. Ford could be removed from office and disqualified from running again for up to seven years.
This seems a bit much. Mr. Ford should have stood aside when the issue came up. As a city council veteran, he knows the rules. But no one complained at the time, and council decided in the end to let him off on the original infraction. To remove the mayor of the country’s biggest city for speaking out of turn would strike most reasonable people as excessive.
So, yes, the mayor should be more scrupulous about the rules, especially now that he is mayor. It was his stubborn disregard for those rules that brought this trouble on his head. But if Mr. Ford is to lose his job, it should be the voters, not the courts, that decide.