Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Conflict-of-interest case shouldn't end Rob Ford

By: Metro Canada Published on Tue Aug 28 2012

Mayor Rob Ford should leave office after losing a fair election to a competent opponent. Someone who convinces the people of Toronto that they've got a better vision for the city.

He shouldn't get tossed from his chair over a conflict-of-interest case. No matter what the law says.

I say this as someone who has decidedly not been a fan of pretty much anything Ford has done since he became mayor. I say it as someone who has come to believe, I think based on facts and numbers and charts and stuff, that Toronto would be better off if someone else—maybe anyone else—was sitting in the mayor's office.

Ford won an election fair-and-square. Barring a felony conviction, he's earned the job and the right to keep it for at least a couple more years.

That said, he's tangled in a legal mess of his own making and he doesn't deserve to skate through without consequence, either. Ford's conflict-of-interest case highlights a pretty serious deficiency in provincial law. Judges should have more discretion when it comes to penalties for cases like these. As it stands, the law is set up with little room for sway: either Ford is guilty and he's removed from office or he's innocent and he walks away cleanly.

It's kind of like if the only possible criminal penalties for petty theft were nothing or death by firing squad. We're in desperate need of some middle ground.

Because Ford is accused of a serious offence. That he was only seeking to raise funds for his football charity is irrelevant. He used official City of Toronto materials—letterhead and envelopes—to solicit funds from corporations that were and are doing business with the city. Yes, his motives were good and his heart was pure—the football teams who received the money will be forever grateful—but his conduct still opened the door to the suggestion that vendors were getting preferred treatment on million-dollar contracts because of their monetary contributions. It simply doesn't look good.

Ford knows that. He's accused other councillors of having conflicts-of-interest for far less, after all.

Putting that aside, he definitely should have known better than to stand up, give a speech and vote on a council item relating to his own conflict of interest case with the integrity commissioner. As John Lorinc points out at Spacing today, the mayor has known enough to excuse himself from countless others votes in which a conflict-of-interest was possible. This is basic stuff. Civics 101. That he and his staff didn't realize their mistake at the time is proof of either flagrant—probably illegal—disregard for the rules or staggering, systemic incompetence.

In that instance, there is no middle ground.

It's hard to say how the rest of this case will go. The judge is in a hard spot, likely aware that public opinion won't support a ruling that removes a sitting mayor from office over what essentially amounts to a few thousand dollars in charitable funds. At the same time, Ford, full of righteous anger and bumbling pride ofter this football-related thing, is probably going to say something that undermines his own lawyer's defence when he takes the stand in open court next week and gives his testimony. He's not known for always thinking things through before speaking.

It'll be fun to watch, definitely, but hard to stomach if the verdict does push Ford out of office. That'd be a cheap, unsatisfying end to the Rob Ford saga.

This post was originally published at on 2012-08-28T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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