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The Globe and Mail

Mayor’s refusal to resign puts London council in a bind

London Mayor Joe Fontana in his office at City Hall in London on Feb. 9, 2012.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The mayor of London, Ont., is refusing to call it quits, despite pressure from city council to resign pending the outcome of criminal charges into allegations he used federal funds to help pay for his son's wedding.

"I'm innocent of all of these charges and I intend to fight as hard as I possibly can to clear my name," a defiant Joseph Fontana said at a news conference on Thursday. "I am not stepping aside. I am not going to abandon my post."

He cannot be forced out, even though all four councillors on the city's finance and administrative services committee plan to vote in favour of a motion on Monday, calling for him to temporarily resign. The provincial Municipal Act stipulates that mayors and city councillors can be stripped of their duties only if they are convicted of a criminal offence.

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Paul Hubert, a councillor and committee member, said he thinks there will be a "clamour" for the provincial legislature to put something in the Municipal Act that gives it more teeth. The mayor needs to be "above reproach," Mr. Hubert told The Globe and Mail. "Obviously, this whole charade has become a distraction. Also, it has left a cloud of uncertainty over our work at council."

Denise Brown, another councillor and committee member, questioned how city hall can function with the allegations swirling around the mayor. "It's not my job to judge him," she said. "But it's my job to do what I was elected to do, and that's to move the city forward."

Mr. Fontana held the news conference at his lawyer's office in London, one day after the RCMP charged him with fraud, breach of trust and uttering a forged document. The charges date back to 2005, when he was a member of Parliament.

Mr. Fontana refused to answer any questions about the charges involving the alleged inappropriate use of $1,700 in government funds to pay a deposit to the Marconi Club in London for the wedding reception of his son, Michael. The allegations centre on a deposit for a room, said Gord Cudmore, Mr. Fontana's lawyer. "The fact is the Fontana family paid for the wedding."

Mr. Fontana was the Liberal MP for London North Centre when the cheque was written. He resigned his seat in 2006 to jump into municipal politics, winning on his second attempt in 2010. On Wednesday, he resigned as a member of London's Police Services Board, something he was forced to do in the wake of the criminal charges.

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