Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says it’s time the city get rid of council watchdogs who employ so many staff they are “tripping over themselves.”
Mr. Ford, along with his brother, Councillor Doug Ford are in hot water again – this time for disparaging the medical officer of health on their Sunday radio show.
Before taking to the field to lead his Don Bosco Eagles into a high school football game in North York Thursday, the mayor told The Globe and Mail the city should get rid of them all and keep one lawyer on retainer instead to handle such complaints.
“You don’t need a lobbyist register, an ombudsman and an integrity commissioner,” he said. “They have 20 people, they’re tripping over themselves. They’re trying to make themselves look busy. I’ve never voted in favour of it and never would.”
The mayor and Councillor Ford criticized Dr. David McKeown on their Newstalk 1010 program on April 29 for a $60,000 report his office had prepared recommending the city lower speed limits to protect pedestrians and cyclists.
Toronto’s integrity commissioner is recommending that council formally rule that Doug Ford broke the Councillor’s Code of Conduct and consider reprimanding him because he refused to apologize.
Mr. Ford refused to discuss the details of the integrity commissioner’s report.
In the mayor’s case, the integrity commissioner is only recommending a finding of fault, not a reprimand, because Mr. Ford sent a retraction letter shortly before the watchdog’s conclusions went public.
Councillor Ford said Thursday that, if forced by council, he will apologize to Dr. McKeown. But he is not happy about it.
“I’ll say sorry, even though I don’t believe the person that’s in charge of the health should start interfering in transportation,” he said. “It’d be like the transportation folks going into the health department and telling them what to do. But that’s my opinion. If I’m being forced to say sorry for something I don’t believe in, so be it, I’ll just say sorry if it comes down to that. I don’t care.”
On their radio show, the brothers told listeners they disagreed with the MOH’s call for reduced speed limits, then went on to criticize him as an overpaid “embarrassment” who had overstepped his bounds.
Doug Ford called Dr. McKeown “this guy” and twice asked, “Why does he still have a job?”
The mayor referred to the salary paid to Dr. McKeown as “an embarrassment” and called the report “nonsense,” at another point in the show.
“I shouldn’t have said that, but I’m a little biased here,” the mayor added.
A caller towards the end of the show criticized the mayor for his comments about Dr. McKeown, pointing out that no other doctor would take the post for less than $280,000.
“I appreciate your call, but it’s actually over $300,000, so I guess we are going to agree to disagree, but you know what, that’s the great thing about democracy and I appreciate your calling in,” the mayor said.
Dr. McKeown’s salary is $294,302, according to the provincial sunshine list.
Councillor John Filion, the chair of the board of health, filed a complaint about the brothers’ comments on May 9.
“It is important that the kind of behaviour that we have seen over almost the last two years, it’s important that that stop,” Mr. Filion said Thursday. “City government isn’t tag-team wrestling.”
Mr. Filion said the mayor and Councillor Ford had every right to criticize the report’s recommendations, but crossed a line when they directed their remarks at a public official.
Such treatment, he said, would result in one of two outcomes. Staff will be intimidated or leave. “There are lots of places that are easier to work,” he said. “We don’t exactly have talented, skilled people lined up to work at the City of Toronto.”
Mr. Filion also lashed out at the letter sent by the mayor to the integrity commissioner on the eve of the report’s release. “It was offensive,” he said when asked to describe it. “It is just more of the same. It’s using something characterized as an apology as an attempt to do more damage.”
The integrity commissioner determined that although the Fords were free to express their dislike of lower speed limits, they broke the code when they personally insulted a staff member who was only doing his job.
Dr. McKeown said he was surprised by the comments, because the report in question was within his mandate. “I was really just doing my job as the medical officer of health in recommending policies that will support the health of the public,” he said.
Dr. McKeown said the remarks will not change the way he does his job.
“I am going to continue doing what I think is best for the health of the community and if there are policies the city can adapt that will help make people healthier, which will prevent illness and injury, that’s what I will be recommending.” Although the reports about the brothers’ behaviour are on the agenda for next week’s council meeting, debate on the matter could be postponed until a judge rules on Mayor Ford’s conflict-of-interest case, which also stemmed from an integrity commissioner’s report.
A third integrity commissioner’s report against Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, a member of the mayor’s executive, is expected to go ahead at council next week. In that case, the watchdog found Ms. Berardinetti belittled a Toronto Zoo staff member in a radio interview in November, 2011.
She apologized and the commissioner recommended no further sanction.
The new integrity commissioner’s reports were released on the two-year anniversary of Mr. Ford’s election to the city’s top political job.
Councillor Ford said he would prefer to laud his brother’s accomplishments – including reining in the budget, securing four years of labour peace with the city’s unions and outsourcing garbage west of Yonge Street – rather than discuss another scolding from the integrity commissioner.
The colourful councillor has a new strategy to prevent his wrist from being slapped in the future.
“I’m just going to get a blank piece of paper, 10 of them and put, ‘I, Doug Ford… apologize for anything I’ve said in the past or anything I’m going to say in the future over the next two years,’” he said.