Allegation of influence peddling could be ‘problematic’ for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
A Muskoka-area woman was pulled over and charged Tuesday with impaired driving while she was behind the wheel of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's Cadillac Escalade.

Another serious allegation was leveled against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on Wednesday, and this one didn't involve drugs, alcohol or a single vulgar comment.

A Globe and Mail report suggested the mayor and his brother may have used their positions at city hall for personal gain, specifically the gain of the family company, Deco Labels and Tags.

But after months of endless scandals, most of which have featured far more visceral details than this hints of backroom dealings can possibly provide, is there anyone still listening? Or could allegations of an abuse of power do more to hurt Ford's re-election chances than any drunken stupor possibly could?

According to Globe and Mail, a former Deco executive has come forward and confirmed that Ford and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, held negotiations with a major printing company that would secure the company a significant amount of work with the city of Toronto, while at the same time working to secure the Ford family company a more profitable relationship with the printing company.

According to the Globe and Mail:

In June, 2011, Mayor Ford and his brother met with six officials from Donnelley Canada who were urging city staff to hand their company part of Toronto’s $9-million printing operation. No one in the civil service was told that Donnelley – a Chicago-based Fortune 500 company – around that time was arranging to refer clients to the Ford family business, Deco Labels and Tags.

In short, the allegation suggests the Fords may have pushed city bureaucrats to give Chicago-based RR Donnelley and Sons a significant amount of work without revealing to the city that they were Deco business partners. The report suggests no deal was ever reached.

The allegations are similar to those detailed in a previous report, which suggested the Fords attempted to secure a Deco client, Apollo Health and Beauty Care, a property tax grant and other city perks.

After Ford's litany of shock-worthy scandals involving drug confessions, sexist and racist comments captured on audio and lurid, stumbling drinking sessions captured on video, the specifics of a questionable backroom deal may not jump off the page.

But as Ford prepares to leave rehab and rejoin the mayoral election campaign, fewer things could be more damaging to his chances than suggestions that Ford may have tried to slip his own fingers into the cookie jar.

"Moral failings can be forgiven. But financial ones are usually the ones that stick," said Dennis Pilon, a political science professor at York University. "The problem is that Ford has built his brand on, 'I'm going to stop the gravy train. I can look after your money.' If he appears to be going against his own brand, that undermines him."

Somewhat ironically, however, Pilon says there is so much noise surrounding Ford from previous scandals that it may provide some protection. After months of endless scandal, many have simply tuned out any new controversy. Even ones that don't cross the line into drugs and alcohol – what Ford refers to as his personal domain.

Peter Graefe, a McMaster University politics professor, agrees.

"When it comes to the subject of potential influence peddling, it may be harder to sell to voters who are used to the gross details of past scandals," Graefe told Yahoo Canada News.

Still, the latest allegations could be helpful for leading mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and John Tory who may be looking for a way to get the attention of Ford's remaining supporters.

Indeed, both candidates slammed Ford for his apparent misuse of power on Thursday, with Tory saying it was more evidence he should resign.

Ford's lurid history has become an interesting topic on the campaign trail. While the series of drug confessions, booze-fueled dalliances with impropriety and shocking comments may no longer swing the pendulum, there is a chance Ford's failings as mayor still could.

Candidate David Soknacki recently told Yahoo Canada News that he is more interested in exposing Ford's policy failures than underlining his drug and booze scandals.

"I have focused on the content of his performance of mayor because I think that is the way to get to Ford Nation," he said. "They will say, 'Who is going to protect my pocketbook?'"

Ford's turn in rehab could also give him some leeway in that regards. Political experts haven't discounted the possibility that a "redemption narrative" could clear the way for Ford to return as a legitimate candidate.

It could be more damaging to his image, however, to be perceived as a crooked politician, someone ready to put himself above his constituents and willing to game the system for his own benefit.

"Rob Ford and his brother have always made the case that he has problems in his personal life, but he shows up and does the job and there's never been a whiff of corruption," said Graefe. "If these stories come out and there is a question of using influence for the gain of his family business ... it does become more problematic."

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