Amidst the frantic politicking of last week’s transit showdown, Mayor Rob Ford did not declare a conflict of interest last Tuesday night during a council debate over Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper’s recommendation that he repay almost $3,000 in lobbyists’ donations to his family’s football foundation, city officials have confirmed.
Mr. Ford addressed council during the debate, but it appears none of the other politicians present objected to his participation. In a motion by Councillor Paul Ainslie, council voted 22-12 to rescind Ms. Leiper’s recommendation, made originally in an August, 2010, report to council. Mr. Ford voted in favour.
His office did not respond to several requests for comment.
Under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, local politicians are required to publicly disclose any “direct or indirect pecuniary interest” they may have in the outcome of a particular council decision and then recuse themselves from the ensuing debate. In Toronto, declarations of conflict are usually made at the beginning of council meetings.
Some of Mr. Ford’s supporters said he didn’t need to recuse himself.
“I don’t think the mayor did anything wrong,” said David Shiner (Willowdale), noting that Mr. Ford explained in council that he had not personally benefitted from the donations. “It was helpful that he stood up in council and explained what happened.”
Ms. Leiper’s report was a follow-up to a council decision from August, 2010, when then-councillor Ford was taken to task for using city facilities to solicit several registered lobbyists to make contributions, most of which were no more than a few hundred dollars. Acting on the commissioner’s advice, council at the time ordered him to repay the contributions as well as provide proof that he had done so.
These sorts of procedural details are not new to Mr. Ford.
As a councillor, he declared a conflict prior to a 2010 council debate over a previous integrity commissioner investigation that arose after he accused Councillor Adam Vaughan of conflict of interest on a radio show. (He withdrew the allegation.)
In her 2010 annual report, Ms. Leiper noted it was “the first time” a councillor has recused themselves from such a debate. As she wrote, “Although the state of the law in this area is not entirely clear, it may be appropriate for Councillors who are the subject of a report on a violation of the Code of Conduct to consider declaring an interest under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, in view of the potential sanctions that could include a suspension of remuneration (although to date, this has never happened in Toronto).”
During last Tuesday’s debate, Ms. Leiper explained how she has sought on repeated occasions in the past year to persuade Mr. Ford to reimburse the lobbyists who donated to the foundation, as per the former council’s decision. She also noted that Mr. Ford last fall had forwarded three letters in which the lobbyist-donors were asked if they wanted to be reimbursed. (All declined).
“I advised Mayor Ford that asking lobbyist-donors for the additional favour of forgiving repayment could amount to a breach of the Lobbyist Code of Conduct,” wrote Ms. Leiper. “The Lobbyist Registrar was copied on this correspondence so that the lobbyists in question could receive advice about their obligations.”
Special to The Globe and Mail