Municipal politicians should seek advice instead of deciding on their own what constitutes a conflict of interest, mayoral candidate John Tory said responding to questions about possible conflicts surrounding Mayor Rob Ford's business clients.
"Regardless of what the law required, it would be wise for any elected official or public servant who's involved in business in any way to just disclose that and maybe to seek advice and say 'Look, I'm not going to be the decider,'" Mr. Tory said, who himself has business connections as a former Rogers executive.
A Globe and Mail investigation revealed instances where Mr. Ford fought for and against policies that would affect some of his clients at the Ford family firm Deco Labels and Tags, including Nestlé Canada and Porter Airlines. He also backed the appointment to the Toronto Parking Authority board of the owner of an architectural firm that has contracted Deco for some of its printing needs.
Mayor Ford denied any conflict Thursday, saying "I'm not part of the day-to-day operations at Deco. I don't know how many times I have to say this. I'm a principal owner at Deco, and that's all I have to say."
When asked whether he knew that Nestlé and Porter were Deco clients, he said: "We have thousands and thousands and thousands of customers.
"In 52 years of business – almost every company I know uses labels – and I'm sure we have dealt with almost every company. I don't know, but it's a very, very large business."
Former MP Olivia Chow, also running for mayor, said the province must expand the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to clarify and broaden the definition of a conflict. At the federal level, she was required by the Conflict of Interest Act to disclose any assets and external activities and recuse herself from decisions where there was a conflict.
"It seems to me that the municipal conflict of interest rules are a bit vague," Ms. Chow said.
A 2011 inquiry into Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion's support for a development company partly owned by her son led Justice Douglas Cunningham to recommend Ontario expand the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act's narrow definition of a conflict and include a wider range of sanctions.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin said in a statement the ministry is currently reviewing the Act.
"Each of Ontario's 444 municipalities is unique and it's important that we engage with municipalities of all sizes to understand the full impact of any possible changes to the Act," Mr. McMeekin said. "This process takes time."
Councillor Janet Davis said Mr. Ford's dismissal of a possible conflict isn't valid.
"On one hand, he says he's got experience running a multimillion dollar business and on the other hand he says he doesn't have clue what goes on in a day-to-day basis," she said.
With a report from Ann Hui