We are used to the fact that politicians make promises during campaigns that they do not always keep, whether by choice or circumstances. But we expect politicians not to abuse the privileges they gain by their election to office.
It is for this reason that rules were put in place for elected officials. These rules act as guidelines in carrying out their duties on behalf of the electorate, while avoiding conflicts of interests.
Prior to his election as mayor, Rob Ford had set himself up as a paragon of virtue with his parsimonious spending as a councillor with the City of Toronto.
Year after year, when comparisons are made of who spent what, then-Councillor Ford would be at the top of the list as having spent the least. It is one of the qualities, no doubt, that caught the attention of citizens and gave him the credentials to be elected as mayor.
When asked by the media and others why he did not spend more of his allotted funds for his work as a councillor, Ford would respond to the effect that it was the taxpayers’ money and he did not want to abuse it.
So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Ford, who is now facing the distinct possibility of losing his job, has confessed that he did not read and familiarize himself with the Code of Conduct as a councillor.
Ford, as a councillor, and now mayor, continued to coach his football team. According to reports, the problem that brought up questions of a potential conflict was the fact that he raised funds for his football foundation using his councillor’s office letterhead.
Ford was repeatedly asked by the city’s integrity commissioner to repay the funds raised. The mayor failed to comply. The matter was brought to Council, and this is the crux of the matter, where the mayor – contrary to the rules – participated in the debate and voted on the question about repayment.
The city’s Code of Conduct guidelines and those of most governments and private corporations are written in a manner that one could be in violation of the Code by using your computer terminal at work for anything other than the business of the government or corporation. It is one of the reasons that there are frequent warnings to employees to be careful and circumspect in the use of company property.
So, the use of a councillor’s letterhead for any matter that is outside of the purview of the councillor’s responsibilities is strictly prohibited. But then, to take part in the debate and vote on a matter in which you are the subject? That, to my mind, is taking things a bit too far.
One would think that someone who cared so much about the use – or misuse – of taxpayers’ money would not be so casual or ill-informed about the linkages between that and the glaring misuse of the privileges of his office.
Now, the latest matter that has arisen is that a complaint has been filed with the integrity commissioner over the use of his staff in conjunction with his continued coaching of the football team. Again, it begs the question; does the mayor not see this as a misuse of taxpayers’ money?
We all make mistakes. Given the nature of public office and the need to be scrupulous in one’s behaviour in office, it is possible to overstep. If Ford had stepped back, acknowledged that these things were in conflict, and apologized, chances are we would not be talking about them today.
Instead, he chose to challenge the accusations in a way that suggests that he will abide by his own rules, rather than those that are in place to ensure fairness and the protection of the people’s trust.
Since his election as mayor, Ford’s missteps have probably been the subject of more media reports than his performance in a leadership role and his duties and responsibilities as mayor.
It takes one back to a time when mayors, particularly in some cities in the U.S., were seen as the ultimate power in the city and what they said was law. It is probably one of the reasons he wants to reduce the number of councillors, thus eliminating some of his opposition.
The questions that surround Ford currently have to do with how he executes the balance between his devotion to his football team and his role as mayor.
Most political jobs are not nine to five, whether you are an elected official or a member of the political staff. As an elected official, your visibility and actions are part of your performance review, particularly if you intend to continue in office after an election. For the majority of voters, how you come across in the media is a key element of that performance review.
It would seem to me that Ford was not, and is not, ready for prime time as mayor.
By Patrick Hunter