Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Does Mayor Rob Ford's campaign spending audit really matter?

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Tue Feb 05 2013

Because this entire mayoral term is nothing if not repetitive, City Hall watchers spent last Friday again waiting around for the release of a report that could spell trouble for Rob Ford. In this case, it was an auditor's report on Ford's campaign spending leading up to the 2010 election. It stands as yet another thing that could — at a long shot — see the mayor removed from office.

The audit, once it finally got into the hands of the public, revealed a few things. First, that the Ford campaign did spend beyond campaign limits. Second, that Ford took loans from businesses tied to his family, which isn't allowed. It also revealed a few dozen other apparent contraventions of the Municipal Elections Act.

But Ford is a politician who has been accused of contravening laws and ignoring rules countless times before, and it's never really ended up mattering all that much. Will this be any different?

Why the results of Mayor Rob Ford's campaign spending audit don't really matter: because, well, three per cent. Three measly percentage points. According to the auditor, that's how far the Ford campaign went over the limit. And that seems to be the finding from the 35-page report that's made headlines.

To most people, three per cent is little more than a rounding error. Hardly enough to kick up a fuss over. Most people wouldn't demand blood for a mistake that small. Regardless of particulars and technical arguments, Ford can likely walk away from this without another black mark on his reputation. No one cares about three per cent.

(Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, on the other hand, faces a campaign audit report that says he overspent by more than 40%. People will definitely care about that.)

Why the results of Mayor Rob Ford's campaign spending audit shouldn't really matter that much anyway: because there's nothing in this report that even begins to call into question the results of the last election.

There should be a really high bar when it comes to overturning democratic decisions. In my mind, that bar should be set at a point where it's clear an elected official has demonstrably abused the power of the office or it can be shown that the election wasn't conducted fairly. One or both of those conditions should be met before we even start talking about tossing a mayor out of office.

It's for that reason that I was never really on board with tossing the mayor out over his apparent conflict of interest last year. (Though after his outrageous courtroom testimony, I wasn't exactly ready to give him any sympathy if he had been turfed.) Fairness is important. On the face of it, a fair punishment for the kinds of errors covered in Ford's audit report could be a hefty fine or another kind of sanction. There is no way this justifies removal from office.

Why the results of Mayor Rob Ford's campaign spending audit should matter more than they ultimately will: because the report speaks to the sad reality of modern electoral politics in this city, which is that rules are merely guidelines and all that really matters — ultimately — is the amount of money standing behind a candidate.

To me, the real takeaway from the audit report isn't the accounting that led to that three per cent figure. Instead, it's the notion that the Ford Campaign was able to draw $77,722.31 an interest-free loan from “Doug Ford Holdings” and then another $119,372.06 from Deco Labels & Tags Ltd., the Ford family business. The auditors identify that as a contravention, but from their angle that really only amounts to a need to adjust the ledger for proper interest payments.

But think for a second about what that means. Despite supposedly having municipal election laws designed to create a level playing field for all candidates, it sure looks like having a holding company in your father's name and a successful family printing company can be a big help when it comes to building political momentum.

If that's the reality behind political campaigning in this city — that you need a holding company or a printing plant to really get ahead — then that deserves some consideration.

And maybe the mayor deserves a really big fine. He did, after all, seemingly break a bunch of rules that others have managed to follow without much trouble. But let's limit our conversation to just those points. There's no need to talk about removing the mayor from office again. Not until next year.

This post was originally published at on 2013-02-05T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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