Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is currently testifying in court in a conflict-of-interest case that has the potential to oust him from council's top spot.
"As of Friday of this week, the city may not have a mayor," CTV legal expert Steven Skurka said on Canada AM yesterday.
If found guilty, Ford may face removal from office — and a barring from running in a municipal election for seven years.
In 2010, then-councillor Ford solicited more than $3,000 in donations for his personal football foundation using council letterhead. Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper discovered this and notified Ford that his actions breached the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
Leiper ordered Ford to pay back the money. He ignored the request — and the following six requests.
This February, after now-Mayor Ford couldn't provide proof of repayment to the donors, he participated in a debate about the issue and voted against him having a pay it back. Enter: conflict of interest accusation.
Private citizen Paul Magder launched the lawsuit, claiming Ford broke the Conflict of Interest Act by participating in and voting in the debate.
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"All the shenanigans, all the backroom deals [at city hall] for years after years and they are going to go after a guy who donates money to needy kids in priority neighbourhoods? It's a joke," Councillor Doug Ford said on Tuesday.
Ford's lawyer is expected to use a number of defences in the case, including acknowledging an error of judgement and stressing that Ford didn't directly benefit from the money raised.
"Mr. Ford's lawyer, Alan Lenczner, is expected to argue that the mayor did not violate the conflict of interest act — that in fact the act did not apply in this case because the debate had to do with the councillor code of conduct, and that council never had the authority in the first place to demand repayment. Mr. Lenczner also argues that in order for there to have been a conflict, the city would have had to have a financial interest," the National Post reports.
Reporters tweeted from today's morning session in court that Ford stressed he didn't believe he had a conflict of interest in the February vote and that no one advised him otherwise. He also admitted to never reading the council handbook and to being unfamiliar with the Conflict of Interest Act.
Should Ford be convicted — and subsequently removed from office — the city could appoint his replacement or hold a by-election to choose the new mayor.
"I think that Mayor Ford may lose and I think that the people of Toronto may be outraged that a private citizen can do this," Skurka said. "I believe that (Ford) will run again and I believe that, if he does so, he's going to win resoundingly."
It's because of this, some Ford detractors hope he doesn't lose his case. They would prefer his diminished credibility hit him on election day instead.
Columnist Rick Salutin hopes that Ford is beaten at the ballot box, not in court:
"Lots of voters, especially Ford supporters, will be mightily peeved if their votes are discounted because of what will seem to them an arcane legal procedure. They'll think that sore losers found another way to win that election and that those losers wouldn't have gone this route if their candidate had won. They'll have a case. Voters can be pretty jealous about their right to choose who holds public office; it's often one of the few choices they get. If Ford is tossed but allowed to run again, it will strengthen their support for him," he wrote in the Toronto Star, adding that Ford's poor reputation as mayor is an example of the democratic process "working just fine," setting Toronto up for an election with a smarter electorate and more exposed candidates.
"Why meddle with that by throwing in another consideration entirely and giving Rob Ford a chance to run on claims that the 'elites' conspired successfully to thwart democracy?" he wrote.
Ford recently stated that voters should decide his fate, not the court — something many Ford naysayers are excited to do come the next election.
Canadian Business writes that the court still has its place, as "the voters already have decided — they elected the provincial government that put into place the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act 20 or so years ago. And, should they choose, the voters can ask their representatives to change that law."
The case is expected to take three days in court.