Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Two observations about Mayor Rob Ford's libel trial

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Wed Nov 21 2012

So Mayor Rob Ford went to court. Again. And now, arguments concluded, we wait for the judge to render his decision. Again.

I hate reruns.

Unlike Ford's last trip to the courthouse—over conflict-of-interest allegations that could eventually get him removed from office—this month's case has lower stakes. Ford stands accused of making libellous statements regarding a deal the previous council made with restaurateur George Foulidis and the Boardwalk Cafe in the Beaches. Foulidis is suing the mayor for $6 million in damages.

So what did we learn from the latest mayoral legal battle? A couple of things.

1. Ford defines words differently than a lot of us

Ford tends to defend himself by claiming to hold unique definitions of words. Just as he once explained that, in his mind, a “conflict of interest” was some variety of confused two-party thing that involves mutual benefit, this time Ford presented his own spin on the word “corruption.”

“Not following the process, to me, is corrupt,” Ford told the court. “However you want to define that, that’s how I’m defining it.”

But that's not really how anyone defines it. By that logic, a whole smattering of things would meet the definition of “corruption.” Improperly filling out forms would be corruption. Neglecting to cross the street at a proper crosswalk would be corruption. Removing a bike lane without staff recommendation and proper consultation would be corruption.

It doesn't hold up. Words have meanings for good reason. It's not too much to ask that public figures have some knowledge of those meanings before they launch into accusations.

2. This whole thing started because Ford had a reasonably good point

Lost in the reeds of this legal challenge is the point I think the mayor was trying to make in the first place. And it's still a point worth making. For people who want a good meal or a quick drink down by the water's edge, the deal Toronto City Council made with Foulidis' business seems kind of lousy.

Council is too fond of ladling out long-term contracts to food and entertainment companies for large swaths of prime real estate. It's that kind of shortsighted decision-making that ultimately explains why you still can't get decent food or a reasonably-priced beer at most venues on the Toronto Islands or other publicly-owned spaces across Toronto.

With the new deal they signed for the Beaches, council had an opportunity to change that. As an alternative to a monolith contract, they could have looked at bringing in multiple vendors or relaxing the rules to allow competition. Instead, they expanded the exclusive territory granted via their deal and signed on the dotted line for a ridiculous 20 years.

As a candidate for mayor, Ford had every right to point out that the process that led to the deal was in need of serious reform. It was a good issue for him to hang his hat on.

Where he went wrong, of course, was in going too far. There was no reason to bring words like “corruption” and “skullduggery” into the conversation. No reason to make serious allegations about his colleagues. No reason to spark the kind of legal challenge he's now facing.

That's been a recurring problem for this mayor. He takes what should be golden opportunities to advance his policies, pushes too far and says too much, and then everything blows up in his face.

This post was originally published at on 2012-11-21T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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