LORINC: Conflicting accounts of Ford’s declarations of conflict

In Monday’s Globe and Mail, my colleague Kelly Grant reported that Mayor Rob Ford, during a deposition involving the pending conflict of interest proceeding, told lawyer Clayton Ruby that he didn’t recall reading the Council handbook and said, repeatedly, that “he relied on the city solicitor to tell him when he was supposed to declare a conflict and recuse himself from a debate and a vote.”

“`It’s up to staff to give that answer why, many different reasons,’” Ford is quoted as telling Ruby, who is representing resident Paul Magder.

The mayor can duck the sanction – removal from office, as per section 10(1) of the municipal conflict of interest act — if he persuades a court next week that he either inadvertently failed to declare a conflict of interest or erred in judgment during a February council debate about the integrity commissioner’s latest report on Ford’s practice of hitting up lobbyists for donations to his football foundation.

What’s strange is that Ford, as a councillor, frequently declared conflicts prior to certain agenda items, thereby excusing himself from the ensuing debate.

By my count, there are 28 council items on the city’s website indicating that Ford had declared a conflict between 2000 and 2010. Many have to do with council procurement decisions that involve printing (his family owns Deco Labels and Tags, a printing company). At a July, 2006 council meeting [ PDF ], for example, he recused himself from an item before the administration committee about the replacement of a forklift and other equipment in the city’s printing shop.

Other declarations have been even more subtle. In November, 2007 [ PDF ], he bowed out of a debate about a licensing standards item on the location of illegal billboard signs, as one of the signs referenced was “in the vicinity” of the headquarters of Deco Labels and Tags, the family business.

More curious still is this report [ PDF ], approved by Etobicoke community council and then council as a whole in 2009, about reduced speed limits on residential streets near Ford’s home on Edenbridge Drive. City staff and the local councilor had asked for a 40 km/hr limit on a handful of streets just north of Ford’s home. Ford, for his part, declared a conflict because of the location of his house.

That declaration seemed like a bit of bending over backwards: as Ford’s own property isn’t actually located on the streets affected by the change in limit, it’s hard to know how his vote would have posed a conflict or created a pecuniary benefit.

The point is that the mayor, in the past, seems to have been familiar enough with the municipal conflict laws, and attentive enough to council debates, to know when to stick his hand up after the speaker asks for declarations of conflict.

What’s more, as the speed limit items suggest, Ford – either out of a genuine belief in the potential conflict or for reasons of show – erred on the side of caution when it came to items that may have even the slightest link to his personal interests.

Needless to add, the councillor from Ward 2 wasn’t getting bespoke legal advice from the city solicitor during any of these sessions. I’m not suggesting that Ford has some kind of secret, well-disguised knowledge of the conflict laws. Rather, he had an executive assistant who had his boss’s back and, in all likelihood, dutifully flagged anything that might have smelled even a little bit sour.

In case anyone’s forgotten, the specific conflict allegation against Ford arose because he participated in a council debate last February over the integrity commissioner’s recommendation that he reimburse the $3,150 in donations, as previously instructed [ PDF ], ergo the pecuniary interest. So when he blithely failed to declare a conflict and then stood to defend his charitable foundation’s good works, it would seem as if his staff had once again dropped — dare I say it — the football.

The fumble committed, Ford faces the chilling prospect of explaining, under oath, how he managed to unlearn the practice of declaring a conflict of interest.

photo by Lori Coleman

13 comments

  1. I would like to comment, but there MIGHT be a conflict of interest in this matter.

  2. Sometimes I think Rob just doesn’t *want* to be mayor anymore.

  3. Well, he obviously won’t explain how he unlearned the rules. As your colleagues have already pointed out, based on his prior deposition he’ll claim that his total lack of personal financial gain negates, in his understanding of the conflict laws, the interest and that it’s the city solicitor’s responsibility, again in his then uninformed opinion, to inform him if he fails to notice the conflict himself. His lawyers understand that’s not in any way, shape, or form a reflection of the events or what caused Ford to vote that day, but it’s hopefully it’s a loose enough knot that they can fit a “misunderstanding” through.

    That being said, it’s a gigantic load of bullshit. Ford, in absolutely all facets of his life, obeys the rules except when they don’t follow his own superseding logic; he always has and always will. Whether it’s a conflict of interest, or reading while driving, or any of at least a couple dozen things, if he deems something appropriate, then the rules can go fuck themselves, ’cause he’s Rob Ford and he knows best. I’m not sure how many times he can get away with the same defense, but it’s worked for him so far and I expect it’ll work this time as well.

  4. I don’t think people fully understand how brazen Ford’s breach of the law was, which leads to a further misunderstanding of the concept of “inadvertence”.

    Inadvertence, in the context of the law, would be forgetting that a city-wide labour contract might impact your kid who does part time umpiring at the local ball diamond.  Obviously, that isn’t what happened here, and so instead we get this conflation of “inadvertence” with complete ignorance of (or, knowing Ford, disregard for) the law.

    What’s more is that we don’t have to wait until next week’s court hearing.  The real story here is that Ford’s testimony has essentially already sunk him – and it almost has to, because there is no real way around it.  This motion concerned Ford alone (ie. no city-wide contract here), and was concerned solely with Ford’s pocket book.  Ruby has gotten Ford to admit under oath that he not only deliberately (ie. not inadvertently) spoke and voted on the matter, but that he does not regret it!  What’s more, Ford admits that he was primarily motivated by money because he was apparently pissed off the money was going to be coming out of his pocket – even though he doesn’t profit from the football foundation.

    The reason there is so little precedent involved here is that there are so few politicians like Ford – so brazen when their own self-interest is at stake.  When a motion is solely about a politician and involves only the issue of whether or not that politician should pay money out of pocket, the Act’s application is patently obvious – at least to anyone not named Rob Ford.  So we get all kinds of explanations for why this must therefore be complicated.  But the fact is, sometimes things are NOT complicated.  And this is one of those times.

  5. He gives me a headache……..his life seems  so cluttered–

    -I think it is best to simply do what’s right,help others and tell the truth–

  6. What is a real shame is that if Ford is ordered from office, we won’t get a chance to see him properly and soundly defeated at the ballot box thereby showing his “mandate” in all its glory.

  7. I too would much prefer to see Ford (buffoon that he is) rejected by the voters (taxpayers) but it seems pretty clear that he DID break the law and the penalty is not up to the judge. (Especially as he is a 10 year Council veteran and seems to have recused himself many times before this. Hard to argue he “did not read the handbook” (we all now know he reads even while driving!)

  8. Noble sentiments from the councillor companions, but I’ll have my fingers crossed he’ll be gone. Let’s get back to a place where the city isn’t led by such a gigantic clown, a man who’s turned Karen Stinz into a voice of reason by comparison. As spacing has covered in the past, Stinz would vote against the emancipation proclamation if Chris K bought her lunch first.

    Would it be better if he lost an election instead of finally succumbing to the lefty nuisance suits? Sure it would. But since we have to wait another year and a half for just the possibility that happens, I’m happy with sooner and the marginal insiders can eat a bit of chalk from their political opponents for a while about their cheap win if it happens. That suits me just fine.

  9. So he declared a conflict 28 times and did not declare once? Seems inadvertent to me…

  10. I agree it would be immensely satisfying to see Ford get thumped in the 2014 election, but I think it would be a mistake to count on that happening. Two years is an eternity in politics, and there are still plenty of Torontonians who will vote for a populist politician, no matter his record.

    I’m quite happy to see Ford suffer whatever consequences the court deems appropriate for this particular example of his spectacular lack of judgement.

  11. Ford is always boasting about ‘my foundation”. Is this a charitable foundation registered by Canada Revenue Agency? If so we can see what it raised and what it spent as registered foundations can give tax receipts and must publish annual reports. If not it’s not a ‘real’ foundation and we have no idea if all the donors are City suppliers or Ford family members or, mainly, Ford himself. Worth investigation I suggest! (I could not see anything like it on CRA website.)

  12. @DavidC FYI, the assets of the Ford family’s foundation are managed by the Toronto Community Foundation, which invests on behalf of many families with similar philanthropic projects. I have looked for public disclosure but haven’t found the sort of documents that larger charities make available. That said, my impression is that this is not unusual for small family-run charities. The TCF, for the record, does have aggregated financial reports on its website: http://www.tcf.ca/aboutus/financialinformation.html. 

Comments are closed.