It’s time for everyone on the left to exhale.
No judge is going to strip Mayor Rob Ford of his seat over his mystifying decision to speak during the Feb. 7 council debate about the integrity commissioner’s latest volley over the lobbyist donations to his football foundation.
Sure, that’s the scenario that Clayton Ruby, representing Toronto resident Paul Magder, hauled up the flagpole yesterday morning. Indeed, Ruby spent much more time talking about the mouth-watering removal-from-office penalty than the rather broad defense available to Ford: that he persuades the court that he made an error in judgment,”as set out in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
You can almost see the exchanges in court: Ford, called to testify, will spend a lot of time answering his lawyer’s softball questions about the football foundation and his good works. They’ll talk about his schedule, the job pressure, the political events on that day, his selfless desire to lighten the load for ordinary Torontonians.
Finally, said lawyer will ask the mayor to confirm that he neglected to declare an interest, spoke and voted.
Ford will do all of the above.
The lawyer will then ask if he made an error in judgment.
Ford will say he did.
The lawyer will ask if he’s learned a lesson.
Ford will say he has. `To err, etc.‘… or words to that affect.
A round of contrition shots for everyone, hold the ice.
Ruby, on the cross-examination, will succeed in having Ford confirm the record that we all know. But he’ll eventually run into a wall. If the mayor acknowledges in court that he made an error in judgment, Ruby somehow has to prove that Ford did, well, what? Knowingly attempt to mislead council for nefarious purposes? I don’t see how he makes anything stick if Ford ‘fesses up on the stand.
Perhaps we’ll end up with a bloody-minded hanging judge who is keen to make an example out of a very high-profile transgressor. But my guess is that Ford, who has always worn his many imperfections on his sleeve, will walk out of that court looking like a politician who is fallible, imperfect but contrite — the rough-at-the-edges workaday guy who attracts a certain sympathy from many voters.
As for Ruby & Co., I predict they won’t be generating much sympathy. For the anti-Ford left, they raised the ever-so-tantalizing prospect of essentially impeaching the mayor but then failed to deliver the goods. For the galvanized pro-Ford right, their guy is re-confirmed as the flawed by well-intentioned victim of a pinko conspiracy. And for the many Torontonians who see City Hall as the biggest and strangest gong show in town, the spectacle only proves what they’ve long suspected.
In fact, because we’re talking about the judicial process — in which the legal foreplay can go on for a very long time indeed — the aforementioned exchanges may not take place until some time in 2013. And so we can, and should, ponder the question of how a legal victory for Ford (which is to say, anything other than the nuclear scenario Ruby sketched out yesterday morning) will affect the next election.
None of this is to imply that conflict of interest isn’t really important, and particularly with those who hold high public office. Anyone who warns about the corrosiveness associated with a general atmosphere of rule breaking is absolutely correct. Yes, Virginia, there is a slippery slope.
But this specific transgression, to my eye, falls well short of the sort of thing that characterized the MFP scandal. Ford, for example, wasn’t speaking in favour of a lucrative privatization contract awarded to a publicly-traded company in which he owns shares with a significant market value. He was not promoting an outsourcing strategy knowing that his family business fully intends to bid on looming contracts.
If that kind of conflict allegation was involved, or if the amount owed was much larger, the error in judgment defense would fall apart like a wet paper bag.
In this case, it won’t because his was a more of a misdemeanor than a crime.
My question is, does the left really want to die on this hill?
photo by Jennifer Tweedie