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