One is left searching for answers one day after Mayor Rob Ford’s day in court to answer charges of conflict of interest.
Like, how to keep our local democracy from degenerating into solemn cynicism or hooting irrelevance?
As our politicians continue to pervert their exalted calling, citizens and courts employed to hold them to account are ridiculed, and all sense of balance is sacrificed on the altar of partisanship.
Increasingly, citizens appear incapable of passing sound judgment. Matters of public interest, reaching far beyond the immediate issue, are often viewed through the lens of the current political scorecard.
As such, the so-called Ford Nation — that tiny sliver of the electorate for whom Mayor Rob Ford can do no wrong, even if he sacrifices their firstborn — can find nothing to sanction in the mayor’s behaviour, even when the mayor grudgingly concedes culpability.
And the inveterate Ford haters just want to see him expunged from the city, by any means necessary.
The rest of us just want good government. And a little civility, common sense and integrity.
Conflict of interest is such a simple and clear concept that it is stunning so many politicians continue to get it wrong — some of them, wilfully. See Hazel McCallion of Mississauga.
The entire Toronto City Council came under grave scrutiny over a computer leasing contract that ballooned without notice. The Denise Bellamy inquiry was the result. And out of that came the provision of an integrity commissioner to guide council behaviour.
Imagine if you used company letterhead to solicit money from company suppliers to boost your terrific charity? If for some reason you lapsed and did, and a client complained, and your company ombudsman came calling, a reasonable response would be to cease and desist.
Mayor Ford, though, lives by his own rules.
He laudably refused to use taxpayers’ money to pay for his office supplies. But he also refused to understand why the rules would require him to report how much he spent, and on what. And when he used said stationery to solicit funds for his football foundation, and was told this was inappropriate, he balked, arguing it was his money that paid for the stationery so he could use it as he pleased. Finally, after much prodding from Janet Leiper, the city’s integrity commissioner, he heeded, grudgingly.
But Ford didn’t much listen to the woman charged to help city councillors stay on the straight and narrow.
When a citizen complained that Ford was using the muscle of his office to hit him up for cash, on city letterhead, Leiper told Ford the citizen had a legitimate beef.
In addition, Ford used the same tactic with lobbyists doing business with the city. One who gave a donation won a multi-million-dollar contract with the city. Leiper said council rules forbid such solicitations. Lobbyists might think they had to donate just to stay on Ford’s good side. And those who didn’t donate and didn’t get the contract might think that was the reason for their failure.
Ford, of course, conceded nothing. He didn’t apologize. He refused Leiper’s demands that he pay back the money, ignoring six warning letters. Leiper took the matter to council and council voted that Ford should repay the money. He didn’t.
By the time Leiper returned to ask council to enforce its ruling, Ford was the mayor. His new team of allies overturned the earlier vote, after Ford spoke on the issue and voted on it. The amount in question was $3,100 — enough for the mayor to fight to retain.
That’s a clear conflict of interest, period. The mayor spent four hours on the witness stand Wednesday, embarrassing himself, adding logs to two burning fires: one to smoke him out of office and another to fire up his campaign for re-election.
And local democracy turns to ash.Source