The report highlights some of the longstanding problems with Toronto's integrity complaint process.
Remember when Doug Ford was a city councillor? It was a crazy time. There was: a Ferris wheel, a public weight loss challenge, a feud with Margaret Atwood, a weekly radio show, a feud with Police Chief Bill Blair, “subways,” and regular feuds with reality.
Doug Ford’s tumultuous term as a city councillor also had its questionable moments when it came to conflicts of interest. Thirty months ago, three Torontonians filed complaints about Doug Ford’s dealings with two companies that were clients of the Ford family business, and also sought favourable tax treatment from the City.
Following a lengthy investigation, Integrity Commissioner Valerie Jepson found [PDF] that the former councillor “wore two hats” and that it was impossible to delineate when he was acting on behalf of the City, and when he was acting on behalf of his company, Deco Labels.
The report found that Ford violated Council’s code of conduct by violating its section on an improper use of influence, and for improperly receiving gifts and benefits. However, because Ford is no longer a councillor, the Integrity Commissioner does not recommend any reprimand.
While it may be within the authority of Council to reprimand a former member, it is my view that imposing a reprimand on a person who is no longer a colleague of the Council
members responsible for issuing the reprimand would serve no purpose.
Beyond Ford’s ethical violation, there’s a few problems that the integrity commissioner report highlights.
Sanctions for City Council code of conduct violations are frequently incredibly light. The most severe penalty is to dock three months worth of pay, and that has only been enacted once. Council is very reluctant to censure one of its own in strong terms; no one knows who the next councillor to be caught in an ethical quandary will be. The result is that aside from shame, there is little disincentive to violating the code of conduct. This isn’t healthy, as the most shameless councillors are more likely to violate its tenets, and do so more than once.
A report from the integrity commissioner should not take 30 months. Jepson writes in her report that this lengthy amount of time is partially because of a backlog of complaints, the detail needed for this investigation, and that she prioritized cases involving current councillors. All of which sounds fair. But one other reason is a simple lack of resources for Toronto’s accountability officers. They have routinely requested more staff to accommodate their workload and Council, which is often the subject of such investigations, has regularly declined to provide that funding.
The complaints process is demanding and onerous. Complaints against members of Council—people who, by definition, wield political power and influence—must be initiated by a member of the public. Most members of the public do not have the time or resources to dive into the minutiae of Council procedures and rules. Furthermore, becoming the face of a complaint can make one the target of that politician; Doug Ford publicly dubbed complainant Jude MacDonald as a member of his “dirty dozen.”
There are real problems with this process that deserve serious attention. Council’s integrity deserves nothing less.