“There are some … that did not win politically, democratically at the last election and very clearly set out to create chaos. They’ve achieved it … The city of Toronto is now in turmoil.”
— Toronto councillor and Rob Ford ally Giorgio Mammoliti
The words “conflict of interest” soared to new and dizzy heights of importance yesterday as an Ontario court judge handed down his decision to remove Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from office.
As The Canadian Press reported yesterday, Ford was accused of not declaring a conflict of interest when he participated in a council vote to recommend that he repay donations he solicited for his private football foundation using official city letterhead.
In his decision, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland said that while he recognized “there was absolutely no issue of corruption or pecuniary gain on the respondent’s part,” he also said Ford’s actions were characterized by “ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice amounting to wilful blindness.”
Hackland then disqualified Ford from running again during this term of office and put his declaration on hold for 14 days to give the city time to make plans to deal with the situation.
Following his ouster on Monday, the combative Toronto mayor ... check that, ex-mayor ... vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to keep his job and appeal the judge’s decision.
Whether his appeal is successful or not, Ford’s highly public fate begs comparison to two other mayors here in Manitoba who have also come under the dirty cloud of “conflict of interest” allegations.
Longtime Winnipeg music promoter, businessman and city mayor Sam Katz is slated to appear in court next April over a conflict-of-interest lawsuit brought forward by lawyer David Matas.
As the Winnipeg Free Press has reported, the suit against Katz was launched by restaurateur Joe Chan, who alleges the mayor breached the trust of citizens by unfairly awarding a contract to a restaurant he used to own.
In 2010, Katz spent $2,915 of public funds on a party for city councillors, department heads and their families at his Hu’s Asian Bistro restaurant on Ellice Avenue, according to previously released expense records. As Katz did own the restaurant at the time, he could well share Ford’s fate if he is found to have contravened Manitoba’s conflict-of-interest law.
And then, of course, there is the mayor of Brandon, Shari Decter Hirst, who earlier this year teetered on the brink of breaching conflict-of-interest legislation with all her toes hanging precariously over the cliff.
Decter Hirst had been investigated for taking part in debates and decision-making activities regarding the Strand Theatre, both in her role as mayor and as a Renaissance Brandon board member. In mid-May, the city clerk’s office sought legal advice with respect to the issue of whether Decter Hirst was in a conflict of interest because she participated in Renaissance Brandon meetings last year about the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society’s Strand Theatre redevelopment project.
It was no secret that she happens to own property across the street from the Strand Theatre, and her husband, Dr. Derry Decter, was a BFMAS board member.
City council could have asked the Court of Queen’s Bench to make a ruling on the matter, but the allegations never saw the inside of a courtroom. Instead, the city declined such a move, and issued a statement saying that any actions “which may have been a breach of the Municipal Councils Conflict of Interest Act were not done with any improper motive and were an honest error in judgment, committed unknowingly or through inadvertence.”
Certainly the three individuals in question — Ford, Katz and Decter Hirst — have very different personalities, political affiliations and professional qualities. And of course the situations surrounding their respective conflict issues are quite different. But in all three cases, these politicians have been subject to ridicule from visceral opponents, while inadvertently proving the phrase that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
And as a result, one mayor barely slipped the conflict-of-interest noose, another is walking up the gallows’ stairway and the third got hanged yesterday.
For anyone considering a run for office, the tortured tale of three city mayors is a cautionary one.