|2012 Photo of Rob Ford, by Alex Urosevic|
My view on the matter hasn't really changed since I wrote that article two months ago; the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act looked to be a poor response to Rob Ford's transgression then, and it still does now. Even the judge in the case, Justice Charles Hackland, acknowledges that he did so not because what Rob Ford did was serious enough to turf him from office (" I recognize that the circumstances of this case demonstrate that there was absolutely no issue of corruption or pecuniary gain on the respondent’s part."), but because Act didn't give him any latitude to assign a lesser punishment:
"...the City should make every endeavour to persuade the provincial government to either modernize the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act or confer on the City of Toronto authority to create its own conflict of interest regime in place of or supplementary to that Act. Aside from the fact that the existing Act places legal impediments in the way of the City extending the concept of conflict of interest beyond the formulation in that Act, it is simply Byzantine to have a regime under which the only way of dealing legally with conflict of interest in a municipal setting is by way of an elector making an application to a judge and where the principal and mandatory penalty (save in the case of inadvertence) is the sledgehammer of an order that the member’s office is vacated."
- Justice Hackland's Ruling, Paragraph 46Like most "mandatory minimum sentencing" laws (and how ironic that one would take down such a noted conservative!), they provide only one tool (in this case, the "sledgehammmer") to fix all problems, when the nuances of each case often call for a different solution. What Rob Ford did deserves to be punished, perhaps through garnishing his wages, suspending him from council for a length of time, a public admonishment from a judge, or a public apology (or some combination thereof). Hackland notes that these are all potential tools that have been suggested, none of which were available for him to use.
Regardless of whatever you think Rob Ford, today we witnessed a politician get thrown out of office... over what? The small amount of influence and image he gains from the $3,150 in lobbyist donations to an arms-length charity from a time before he was mayor? That's his biggest "crime" in this whole mess, and one that will continue to go unpunished.
The $3,150 is pocket change for his family; his stubbornness was about principle (misguided or not). His actions in council were ignorant, but he neither needed to speak to, or vote on the motion to "forgive" him from paying back this pocket change. Clayton Ruby is right that the only one that Rob Ford has to blame is "Rob Ford", but that shouldn't shield the law that kicked him out from criticism.
That he might be ignorant, lazy, or stupid is irrelevent; lacking any of those qualities does (and should not) bar you from holding office if you can find a plurality of people willing to elect you anyway. We need not have respect for the politician, but we should respect the democratic process. As I said in September, to remove an elected politician from office, the charge must be serious, so serious that the only suitable remedy is vacating their seat. That Ford's action could lead to his unseating speaks less about the mayor's actions (as deplorable as one might find them), and more about how terrible the law itself is.
So now what? Our council won't be any more functional in his absence, likely even less so. We'll probably spend several million dollars on a by-election, to have whoever wins (perhaps, even Ford himself) limp on for two more years, with 380,000 voters disgusted that the man they chose was thrown out not because he committed a crime, or acted in a corrupt manner, but because a poorly-written law (that the judge himself agrees is bad) left no room for an appropriate punishment.
I wanted a new mayor... but not like this.