Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford’s Errors

Rob Ford apologized yesterday, but that should have occurred months if not years ago when the letterhead to solicit donations was used. He said he did not benefit from the conflict of interest. This is not only incorrect, but also not relevant. Conflicts of interest are based on perception, not what the recipient thinks.

Ford made several strategic errors. Here they are:

  1. He did not take advice, legal or otherwise, the judgment confirms. This is remarkable. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is a “sledgehammer,” according to Professor David Mullan and former Integrity Commissioner. I agree. There should be graduated penalties commensurate with infractions, rather than declaring the seat vacant. A lawyer could have predicted that this conflict would end up putting a stranglehold on Ford and removing him from office. Ford was not even familiar with the above Act, he acknowledged under cross-examination. He was also alleged by the Integrity Commissioner to be in violation of the Code of Conduct at Articles IV, VI and VIII, and by requesting forgiveness of the donations, the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. Justice Hackland found Ford had a “dismissive and confrontational attitude” towards the Code.
  2. Ford did not act on the advice he did get. He was instructed, immediately preceding a vote, not to vote on a motion in which he had a pecuniary interest. Ford refused, and not only spoke to the motion, but also voted on it. This was a fatal flaw. It is entirely correct that Ford ought to have had the opportunity to speak as a matter of procedural fairness, as his lawyers argued in the judgment, but that was not what the Act read. (The Act really does need to change to enable a person alleged to be in conflict to speak to the issue in an open forum.)
  3. Ford stubbornly refused to acknowledge the case against him. And it was a silly, amateurish case that should have been avoided. Ford should have known better. Soliciting donations using government stationary implies the communication is official and carries credibility on which the requesting party is trading. It opens the door to expectations by lobbyists of favorable treatment resulting from the donation. This, precisely, is what the Act seeks to penalize. The recipients or cause – or even the quantum ($3,150.00) – is not the issue. Indeed the more deserving the cause, the greater the likelihood is that the conflict will be acute and unrecognized.

The Integrity Commissioner’s report, which Justice Hackman referred to as “excellent,” reads:

“In fairness to Councillor Ford, it is common for a person who has blurred their roles to have difficulty “seeing” the problem at the beginning. It often takes others to point out the problem, especially in a case where the goal (fundraising for football programs for youth) is laudable. The validity of the charitable cause is not the point. The more attractive the cause or charity, the greater the danger that other important questions will be overlooked, including who is being asked to donate, how are they being asked, who is doing the asking, and is it reasonable to conclude that a person being asked for money will take into account the position of the person asking for the donation.”

And it is not the case that Ford did not benefit.

The Integrity Commissioner goes on to write,

“Where there is an element of personal advantage (in this case, the publication of the Councillor’s good works, even beyond what they had actually achieved), it is important not to let the fact that it is “all for a good cause” justify using improper methods for financing that cause. People who are in positions of power and influence must make sure their private fundraising does not rely on the metaphorical “muscle” of perceived or actual influence in obtaining donations.”

This is the heart of the case against Ford. Justice Hackland wrote that Ford ignored the law, did not secure professional advice, and this amounted to “willful blindness.”

Regardless of one’s politics, this case was not well handled by Ford. His legal team is expected to apply for a stay of the judgment and file an appeal.

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