Impeaching a Mayor?

Posted: November 10, 2013 in Current Events, Election, politics

I’ve heard an awful lot, and seen many comments on FB, saying that people have had enough of the Ford scandal and can’t we just leave it alone.  They say that many stories have just become predatory.  I disagree for two reasons.

The first reason, which I don’t want to discuss at length here, is that Rob Ford has a history of lying and evasion that extends back to Florida DUI charges, which was before he even became Mayor.  He is so slippery that the current opportunity to nail him down and expose at least part of the truth is essential and needs to be accomplished by any means.

The second reason is that it is a story that contains many, many lessons.  One of the most important is the incredible story that municipal governments in Ontario do not seem to have any means of impeaching a mayor.    Most governing officials are potentially reigned in by some kind of process.  In Federal and Provincial Parliament it is a vote of confidence and regular party by-laws calling for leadership reviews.  In the U.S. there are impeachment procedures, and even procedures for demanding a recall election.

But in municipal government the only legal justification for removing a Mayor is that he be charged with a criminal offense.

Lots of Ford supporters cite this as a reason why he should be left alone to complete his term so that the next municipal election can show the will of the people.  Many cite the “innocent till proven guilty” myth as a reason why the Mayor should not be condemned or removed from office.  That myth doesn’t apply outside of legal consequences.  (Would you really not want any action against, say, a priest suspected of being a pedophile on the grounds that he is innocent until proven guilty?)

I see it as pointing to a flaw in our municipal government, which has thankfully been put into the spotlight by the actions of Rob Ford.  The City of Toronto is, among other things, a corporation, with the Mayor as the CEO.  It would be a stupid corporation indeed that would not either suspend or fire their CEO if that person had the proven and presumed behaviors of Mayor Ford.  Illegal drug use.  Public inebriation when representing the company.  Consorting with criminals.  Alleged sexual harassment in the workplace.  Impaired driving.  Disrespect for a majority of the clients.  To name just but a few.  Any CEO with that catalog of offenses would be given the boot.  A Board of Directors would immediately take action to protect the company, even if that person had a financial controlling interest.  (And in Ford’s case he certainly doesn’t have that.)

But for some reason, municipal governments have no recourse in this kind of situation.  There is no shortage of precedents in Canadian municipal governments.  Ford is not the first mayor who should have been turfed.  And yet no impeachment procedure or any other process is an option.  Council can’t even force an election.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, City Counselor, wants the Provincial government to pass legislation or use some other means to evict Rob Ford from the Mayor’s chair.  I think that is the wrong tact.  What the provincial government should do is to pass an amendment to the Municipal Act which would allow for the impeachment and dismissal of a Mayor, or any other elected official by a large percentage of a governing council.  It needs to be clear and fair so that it can’t be abused.  The details would have to be ironed out, but it would be legislation which would be more difficult for people to object to, while the blatant dismissal of Ford might be a more contentious and partisan issue.

Frankly I am amazed that this kind of process is not already in place.  What sense is there in setting up any kind of authority structure without including adequate checks and balances?




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