Rob Ford says “left-wing politics” are to blame for his ouster as mayor of Toronto. Nonsense. This wound was entirely self-inflicted. If he had paid even the slightest attention to the rules – if he had even bothered to learn them – he would not be in the fix he is today. As lawyer Clayton Ruby put it, “Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford.”
The judge, Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court, found that the mayor showed a “stubborn sense of entitlement” about his football charity and “willful blindness” about the conflict-of-interest rules.
Those two phrases neatly sum up the flaws of this mayor. Mr. Ford won election in October, 2010, on a wave of anger at waste and mismanagement at city hall. If he had conducted himself with a minimum of care and restraint, he might have been a successful leader of Canada’s biggest city. The public, by and large, were behind his drive for a more frugal, more customer-friendly government. Many voters liked his regular-guy persona, too.
What they missed was a dangerous strain of arrogance. This was the mayor who called senior civil servants to his office to demand paving and other repairs outside his family business in Etobicoke. This is the mayor who used publicly paid workers in his office to help coach his high-school football team. This is the mayor who called the head of the Toronto Transit Commission to complain about a late bus that had been pulled out of service to pick up his football players. And this is the mayor who wanted the city’s accountability officers reformed out of existence when some of them questioned his conduct and policies.
Here was a guy who ran as a man of the people but acted as if he were above the limits that apply to ordinary mortals. For Rob Ford, the rules were always for somebody else. Nowhere was that clearer than in the case that led to Monday’s damning court judgment. While he was still a lowly member of city council, a position he held for a full decade, the city’s Integrity Commissioner found that he had used his status as councillor to solicit funds for his private football charity. Among the donors he approached were lobbyists and a company that does business with the city. The commissioner found that seven lobbyists or clients of lobbyists who had donated to the football charity had either lobbied Mr. Ford or registered an intent to lobby him.
The danger is obvious: if a lobbyist does a favour for a councillor – even if it means donating to a good cause – he might expect something in return. Mr. Ford, who rails about corruption at city hall, should have seen that.
Instead, he brushed off the complaint. After trying repeatedly to reason with him and explain how he was out of bounds, the commissioner recommended that he pay back $3,150 in improper donations. City council backed her up. He refused.
His arrogance tripped him up again when the football affair came to council last February. Fed up with the whole business, councillors actually voted to excuse him from paying the money back. A wiser man would have buttoned up and let others pass judgment in a matter where he had a clear financial interest. Instead, he both voted and spoke, insisting once again that he had done nothing wrong.
An honest error in judgment? Not under the law, says Judge Hackland. At the trial, Mr Ford admitted he had never read the councillor’s handbook, which explains conflicts of interest, never attended the briefing sessions for newly elected councillors – had never even bothered to read the law he was charged with breaking. As the son of a provincial MPP, he testified, he knew all he needed to know.
The price he is paying is high, no doubt: a decision ejecting him from office – delivered by a judge instead of (as would have been vastly preferable) by the voters. Judge Hackland himself wrote that Mr. Ford’s “arguably technical breach” involved only a modest amount of money and the penalty demanded by the law – removal from office – was strict.
But Mr. Ford brought it all on himself. As Mr. Ruby put it, “It could so easily have been avoided … if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense and he had played by the rules.”
That, apparently, was too much to ask. The rules don’t apply to Rob Ford. Never did.