September 8, 2012
'Back to business' as T.O. mayor awaits court ruling
By Don Peat, QMI Agency
TORONTO – Will Toronto City Hall grind to a halt as Mayor Rob Ford's mayoralty hangs in the balance?
A decision from Justice Charles Hackland on whether Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and if he should be turfed from office is anywhere from weeks to months away.
The pending decision raises the question of how council will act when there is such a question mark over the mayor's fate.
Ford's spokesman predicted he'll be getting "back to business" immediately while the mayor's left-leaning opponents and some of his allies say he lost control of council a long time ago.
The case started back in March when lawyer Clayton Ruby launched the lawsuit against Ford on behalf of Toronto resident Paul Magder (no relation to the furrier and Sunday shopping fighter of the city's past).
Ruby alleged Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act during a February council meeting. At that meeting, council was debating an update from the city's integrity commissioner on Ford's failure to provide evidence he responded to a 2010 council decision ordering him to personally repay $3,150 in donations to lobbyist and clients of lobbyists who donated to his children's football foundation.
On that day, Ford delivered an impassioned speech to councillors about his children's football foundation and voted with a majority of councillors on a motion by Coun. Paul Ainslie to drop the fine outright.
Flash forward almost six month to last week when all eyes were the two-day hearing into Ford's conflict-of-interest case.
The courtroom was packed Wednesday for Ford's testimony. A surreal scene for the sitting mayor of Canada's largest city — even one as unique as Ford — to take centre stage.
On the stand for around five hours, Ford claimed he didn't read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, dodged an orientation meeting for new councillors when first elected because he was the son of an MPP and offered up an incorrect version of what he believed constituted a conflict of interest, which he claimed he's been operating under throughout his 12 years in politics.
A day later during submissions to the judge, Ruby blasted Ford's testimony, accusing him of lying under oath.
"It is not a believable submission," he added on Ford's claimed definition of conflict.
Ford's lawyer Alan Lenczner argued the mayor didn't act in bad faith.
"He didn't think the conflict of interest act applied in this situation," Lenczner said. "And why wouldn't we believe him?"
Lenczner went on to submit that council had no authority to impose the original fine on Ford and he should have had a chance to defend the issue to those imposing the fine.
George Christopoulos, Ford's press secretary, said Friday despite the looming court decision it will be business as usual for the mayor this coming week.
"He had his day in court and he is looking forward to getting back to business and doing what the residents of the city elected him to do — to lead the city," Christopoulos told QMI Agency.
Ford foe Coun. Adam Vaughan — who accused the mayor of "whining" as the courtroom drama rolled out — said nothing will change this fall at city hall.
"(The mayor is) going to continue to lose votes before, during and after this," Vaughan said.
The councillor said what has really "demoralized" Ford is that "he's become irrelevant."
Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, a Ford loyalist, said Vaughan is probably right but it isn't the mayor's fault.
"I blame it squarely on councillors who don't want to go anywhere with this term of office and whose goal it was to sabotage and ruin four years of administration," Mammoliti said.
"It is not the mayor's fault he has no control. It is the system and the structure that we set up. It is not a strong mayor system. There are 44 councillors and about 20 of them are there to sabotage.
"How can any one mayor move forward in getting an agenda through when nobody really cares about any part of the agenda?"
Looking at Ford's court case, Mammoliti said he hoped Ford won't be booted out of office.
"I'd hate to see the mayor of the largest city in Canada and one of the largest cities in North America be told he has to step down because he raised funds — $3,000 — for an at-risk youth group, and that's really how minor it is," Mammoliti said.
Coun. Josh Colle — a self-described "independent" councillor and member of council's political "middle"— doubted Ford's yet-to-be decided court case will have an impact on council.
"I would hope not," Colle said. "There is so much work to do and so much important stuff to do, I just think this is a real big distraction that we don't need.