Integrity at risk, time to grow up & get to work

(C) Bigstock Photo

As I write this,
There have been calls to get the Integrity Commissioner involved.

My take on this issue is simple.  It was crass and tasteless, and very much in line with the kind of politics espoused by the mayor’s brother.  But, there’s nothing wrong with it, technically, morally, or otherwise.  It’s politics.

Let’s boil it down.

For months and months, ad nauseum, Councillor Paul Ainslie has been going out of his way to embarrass and ridicule the mayor.  He tweets and retweets embarrassing stories constantly. In fact, as of this writing, Ainslie has tweeted 38,178 times.  If we give him the benefit of doubt and assume Ainslie was the first human being ever to use Twitter, then he’s been Tweeting 15 times per day since the day Twitter evolved.  Let’s just say, he’s prolific.

Is it fair for the mayor to reach out directly to consitiuents in Ainslie’s ward to tell them his side of the story?  Why not?  Ainslie is out there every day, telling people what he thinks.  He’s quoted in the press from earlier this week saying he doesn’t think Rob Ford is a good mayor and shouldn’t be re-elected.  Ainslie says he’ll actively support someone other than Ford in 2014.

Ford’s robocall didn’t say “vote against Ainslie.”  It said, subways are good, Ford and 9/10 of Scarborough councillors are bring a subway to Scarborough, Aislie is the only Scaroborough councillor to oppose the subway plan and, in fact Ainslie led the charge against it.  Let’s see…

Ainslie stood up in City Council last week and gave a speech about how stupid it would be to choose subways over LRT in Scarborough.  In fact, he moved a motion to reaffirm Council’s support for LRT and abandon it’s aspirations for subways to replace the Scarborough RT.  He asked councillors to follow his lead and support his motion.  So, when Ford says Ainslie was one of 10 Scarborough councillors who opposed the Scarborough subway, or when he says Ainslie “led the charge” to oppose the subway option, it seems to me he’s being pretty accurate.

Does it violate the Code of Conduct for Councillors?  Not according to long-time Ford arch nemesis Adam Chaleuf-Freudenthaler who told the Star…

Could it be “disrespectful” to another Councillor?  How so?  Ford, unusually, sticks to the facts.  If telling people in Ward xx that Ainslie led the charge against the subway, then the first person to be punished should be Ainslie himself.  Because, he led the charge and gave a speech in City Council, in front of a dozen cameras, exhorting people to follow him.

I mean, if Ford had lied to reporters saying Ainslie had been ejected from a public event because he was drunk, that would be disrespectful.  But, Ford didn’t do that.

Remember, this is the same Ainslie who, in December 2010, said “Scarborough needs a subway from Kennedy Station intoDurham Region,” (Councillor Paul) Ainslie said. “The City of Toronto should look at a regional transit system.”

Hot on the heels of the great subway debate in March 2012, when Council decided against a subway option in Scarborough, Ainslie said “I’m going to continue to advocate for subways but also for a regional transportation system.”

On July 17, 2013 Ainslie voted at City Council in favour of a motion to “confirm (City Council’s) support for the Scarborough Subway…and authorize the City Manager to amend the Master Agreement, only as it pertains to the conversion of the Scarborough LRT to a Scarborough Subway and, if necessary, enter into a separate agreement with Metrolinx and the Province…”

Honestly, it’s difficult to keep up with Councillor Ainslie’s personality changes.

And who posed for these pictures:


Frankly, if Ainslie can’t stand the heat, he shouldn’t have set fire to his own kitchen.

The sandbox tiff between Toronto City Councillor Paul Ainslie and Mayor Rob Ford appears destined to land on the doorstep of the city’s Integrity Commissioner.  When it does, Commissioner Janet Leiper would be well advised to reject the complaint out of hand.  The credibility of her office, and the integrity of Toronto’s government, is at stake.

Toronto City Council created the office of the Integrity Commissioner in 2004, hot on the heels of a major city purchasing scandal.  The commissioner was intended to oversee the council’s new Code of Conduct for members.  The code’s major purpose was to identify and prohibit activities likely to lead council members into the kind of trouble that could give root to scandals, bribes, misuse of power, and other nasty malfeasance.  It also stipulated that members of council should, by and large, be respectful of one another.

The Code of Conduct and the Office of the Integrity Commissioner should have been a big deal.  Perhaps they were when launched.  Ten years later, however, it’s all devolved to a sad state.  Most complaints investigated by the commissioner involve allegations of felony rudeness and second-degree hurt feelings.  These days, members of council put footballers to shame, diving like the best of them in order to draw political yellow-cards on their opponents.

At best, the commissioner has become an anachronistic Miss Manners, overseeing schoolyard tiffs between belligerent bullies.  At worst, the Integrity Commissioner has allowed the powers of her office to become a political foil to be suborned for purely partisan purposes.

A quick review of the Integrity Commissioner’s reports to council demonstrates how badly the office has been sidelined.  Most complaints involve politicians complaining about each other’s verbal comments.  Other complaints involve political activists waging a war of harassment against their political foes.  Last year, one case even involved a major newspaper trying to bully a politician into granting it interviews because to do otherwise was “unfair.”

What’s missing entirely from the list of Integrity Commissioner reports, however, is any evidence the office is investigating anything that truly matters.

Consider this.  In the past six months, there have been a number of news reports of councillors benefiting from their positions in questionable ways.  One report implied a councillor might have benefited from questionable loans possibly associated with votes at council on matters of importance to the lender.  Another report suggested two councillors might have enjoyed unrealistically low rental charges for properties they may occupy or sublet from developers who have business dealings with the city.

Anyone who spends more than a few hours at City Hall will hear rumors about members of council living beyond their visible means or taking unusual interests in the advancement of odd issues.  But, no one has heard anything to suggest the Office of the Integrity Commissioner has any interest in these allegations.

As Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner prepares for the arrival of Mr. Ainslie’s complaint, she would be well served to remember why her office was created in the first place.  She would do every citizen of Toronto great service if she refocused her efforts on investigating issues that truly threaten the integrity of Toronto Council and the city’s government.

Ms. Leiper should have no time for petty political bickering.  When Ainslie arrives to lay his complaint, she should look him square in the face and tell him to “put on his big boy pants” and get on with his job.  Appointed to a five-year term that ends in 2014, she has just enough time get on with hers.

First published here, this post was also published by Huffington Post Canada on 16 Oct 2013.  Find it here.