Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner is investigating Mayor John Tory over an alleged conflict of interest relating to his long-standing ties to telecom, media and sports giant Rogers Communications Inc.
The alleged conflict, which Mr. Tory has denied, is connected to his role in a city-council debate over weekend closings of Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard West as part of the ActiveTO program.
Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive Mark Shapiro wrote a letter to Mr. Tory in June, urging him not to vote in favour of the Lake Shore closings because they make it difficult for baseball fans to attend games at the Rogers Centre.
Mr. Tory, who is running for a third term as mayor in the coming October election, publicly defended Mr. Shapiro’s letter and voted in favour of an amended ActiveTO plan that does not include Lake Shore closings.
Mr. Tory sits on the advisory committee to the Rogers Control Trust, which controls the Toronto-based company through its ownership of 97.5 per cent of the company’s voting shares. The Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre are both owned by Rogers Communications.
Last fall, Mr. Tory found himself attempting to mediate a bitter feud between Rogers family members over who should run their telecom company. The battle ended up in a B.C. courtroom, where a judge handed Edward Rogers, the chair of the company’s board and of the family trust, a victory that allowed him to replace five independent directors and remove the telecom’s CEO.
A spokesperson for the mayor said on Friday that Mr. Tory is “fully co-operating” with the Integrity Commissioner and that the mayor will not be commenting further.
“Mayor Tory’s record on integrity speaks for itself,” Lawvin Hadisi said in a statement.
Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty confirmed in a letter to Adam Chaleff, who filed the ethics complaint against Mr. Tory, that there are “sufficient grounds” to investigate whether Mr. Tory violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. It’s not the first time that Mr. Chaleff, a civic activist and communications professional, has taken aim at a sitting mayor; in 2012, he organized a high-profile complaint against then-mayor Rob Ford.
“I have decided to investigate,” Mr. Batty wrote to Mr. Chaleff. “This does not mean I have found Mayor Tory to have breached the MCIA or that an application to the court is appropriate. I have only decided there are sufficient grounds to inquire as you have requested in your application.”
If Mr. Batty concludes that Mr. Tory has violated the municipal code, he can apply to a judge for a formal decision on the violation. The judge can also issue a penalty, ranging from a reprimand to removal from office.
The relationship between the Tory and Rogers families spans multiple generations, dating back to the 1960s when the telecom’s late founder, Ted Rogers, articled at Torys LLP, the law firm founded by Mr. Tory’s grandfather and subsequently run by his father.
Mr. Tory served as the president of Rogers Cable and sat on the company’s board before running for mayor. In 2014, as he took public office, Mr. Tory stepped down as a Rogers director but remained in his role on the advisory committee to the family trust, citing a “moral obligation” to his friend Ted Rogers, who died of congestive heart failure in 2008.
The advisory committee is made up of Rogers family members and family friends. The passing of Rogers family matriarch earlier this year left an empty spot on the formerly 10-person committee. It is unclear how, or whether, that spot will be filled.
Mr. Tory’s involvement in Rogers Communications attracted scrutiny last year during the high-profile battle for control of the company.
The power struggle erupted after Edward Rogers first attempted to oust the company’s then-CEO, Joe Natale, and replace him with its chief financial officer, Tony Staffieri. The move met resistance from the majority of the company’s board, including his mother, Loretta Rogers, and sisters Martha Rogers and Melinda Rogers-Hixon.
Mr. Rogers struck back by attempting to replace five of the company’s independent directors with his own slate of candidates without holding a shareholder meeting. The move ultimately succeeded, allowing Mr. Rogers to install Mr. Staffieri as CEO.
At the height of the boardroom brawl last October, Mr. Tory was asked by reporters whether it is appropriate, and the best use of time, for the mayor to chair a Rogers family trust meeting that could determine the future of the country’s largest wireless carrier.
Mr. Tory responded that he attended the meeting after a 12-hour workday. “I choose to carry out a serious fiduciary obligation that I promised the late [Ted] Rogers that I would do, to try and help his family and his company,” he said at the time, adding, “I don’t think there are too many people that call into question my devotion to my job.”
In a statement Friday, Mr. Chaleff thanked Mr. Batty for his “swift decision” to investigate the alleged conflict. Mr. Chaleff had asked the commissioner to expedite the investigation given the coming municipal election.
“Torontonians deserve to know as soon as possible whether their mayor is working exclusively in the public interest or if he is being unduly influenced by his loyalty to Rogers,” Mr. Chaleff said.