Rob Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford’s role in helping a client of their family firm gain access to top city executives has renewed calls for Toronto’s integrity commissioner to take action amid new revelations that her office has suspended its investigations of the mayor while he is on leave.
Toronto’s integrity commissioner, who earlier this year began an investigation into allegations the mayor violated council’s code of conduct by using city-paid staff and resources for personal benefit, put that work on hold this month after Mr. Ford announced he was going to rehab, The Globe and Mail has learned. Tim Gleason, the lawyer representing the Toronto man who lodged the original complaint in January, is asking for that probe to be reopened and expanded to include Councillor Ford and new evidence in city documents uncovered by The Globe and Mail.
The Globe investigation shows Mayor Ford and his brother helped to lobby Toronto’s most senior bureaucrats in the months after they took office, intervening on behalf of Apollo Health and Beauty Care on a range of issues from stop signs to tax breaks. Apollo has been a client of the Ford family’s business, Deco Label and Tags Inc., for more than a decade, a fact city staff say they were never told by the mayor and his brother.
The new information comes as Toronto’s controversial leader has stepped away from his job and his re-election campaign to seek help for his addictions. But unlike recent controversies involving his personal life, these allegations touch on the role of the mayor and his brother as elected officials and has one leading rival for the mayor’s job, John Tory, calling for an investigation.
Mr. Gleason, who represents Ray Fredette, a retired executive with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association who filed the complaint in January, said the new information uncovered by The Globe “should provide fruitful ground for the Commissioner’s investigation.” The original complaint was based in part on an earlier investigation by The Globe that revealed the mayor called senior staff to a meeting at the Apollo plant about a sewage-spill investigation.
“If this information is true, the involvement of the Fords in Apollo’s dealings with the City needs scrutiny. It seems troubling that Apollo should have such ardent advocates in the Fords and such ready audiences with the City’s top officials,” Mr. Gleason said in a statement Monday.
Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper, who could not be reached for comment Monday because she was out of the province, said in an interview Tuesday that she is constrained about what she can say about any investigation because of provisions of the City of Toronto Act and her own practice of not commenting publicly on her probes before they are concluded. She declined to confirm whether she had launched an investigation or if it had been suspended.
Councillor Ford would not comment Monday on the revelations, which he characterized as a “witch hunt.”
Mr. Tory called on council to investigate what he described as “troubling” allegations. “The city has mechanisms to deal with this kind of behaviour and there must be transparency. Torontonians deserve to know the full story,” he said in a statement.
Others, including mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, said it will be up to Toronto voters to make the final decision on the mayor’s behaviour now that he is on a leave and the municipal election is less than six months away. “Really it’s up to the voters to decide at this point,” Ms. Chow said.
Councillor Jaye Robinson said the actions of the mayor and his brother raise questions about the clout of Toronto’s accountability officers, including Ms. Leiper.
“How do you ensure those accountability officers have enough teeth to finish the job?” Ms. Robinson said Monday. “Janet Leiper writes reports and asks people to apologize, but her powers are limited.”
Ms. Robinson, who worked for the city for two decades before entering politics, said the actions put bureaucrats in an “awful situation,” being called into meetings where they are not aware of all the background. “It’s a clear-cut conflict of interest. They are fast-tracking meetings with the city’s top official to address Deco Label’s client’s issues,” she said. Ms. Robinson left the mayor’s executive committee last year when he refused to seek help for his substance abuse.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, a frequent critic of the mayor who will resign his seat Tuesday to run in a federal by-election, said experience has shown there is little council can do about the mayor’s actions. “He has been warned. He has been told. He has been to court. He has had the rules read to him. He knows what the rules are,” Mr. Vaughan said.
Councillor Michael Thompson said that in this case the rules worked because city manager Joe Pennachetti and other city staff did not give Apollo the special tax deal it was after.
“The system worked,” said Mr. Thompson, chair of the city’s economic development committee. “At the same time, I think it is important that we ask people to follow the rules. The rules are there for a purpose, to ensure that everyone has a fair and unbiased way of being able to work with and meet with city officials.”
Lawyer John Mascarin, an expert in municipal law, said the Ford brothers appear to have breached the city’s code of conduct for councillors, specifically with regards to improper use of influence. “The requirement is no influence of the office for any private advantage of someone who could benefit from it and here there seems to be a direct benefit, potentially, to Deco because Apollo is a client of Deco,” he said.
Mr. Mascarin said the fact that Apollo is a customer of the Ford family’s label company adds a troubling dimension.
“This stuff becomes embroiled into something a little more … suspicious because it’s a customer of their well-known company that they control,” he said. “It does very much appear to be an attempt to use their office to influence a decision for the private gain of someone who will benefit the Ford family. That’s the perception, I think.”
David Soknacki, another candidate for mayor, called the Fords’ involvement “just plain wrong” and called for an investigation.
“We have rules in place to protect the public interest,” he said. “The responsibility of the chief magistrate is to represent the public’s interest. And for these allegations to come forward are very troubling.”
Democracy Watch said in a statement that it also will be filing a complaint with the integrity commissioner.
With a report from Jill Mahoney.