Mayor Rob Ford says he emerged from his legal conflict of interest saga “humbled” and that the experience of nearly being tossed out of office taught him lessons.
But at a packed city hall news conference, he said those lessons wouldn’t cause him to govern any differently than he has for the first two years of his four year mandate.
“What I’ve learned is there’s so much support from the people out there – even a lot of them said ‘you know what? I didn’t support you the last time, but you proved me wrong.’ They weren’t happy with how the first decision was made I want to thank them. It’s very humbling to know how many people out there support me and support their city and the whole political aspect of city hall.”
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Mayor Ford made the comments just two hours after having learned that his appeal of last year’s decision by Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland, to throw him out of office for violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, was successful.
The conviction stemmed from Ford’s decision in February 2012, to speak and vote on his own behalf against a report from the city’s integrity commissioner, recommending he be made to return $3,150 in donations by lobbyists to Ford’s personal football charity.
The Divisional Court panel of judges ruled Ford had no conflict, because council had no legislative power to compel Ford to return the money.
That ruling means Ford will, barring any other calamity, be permitted to finish his term and run for re-election in 2014.
Ford made it clear that he intends to do just that.
“Over the past few years I’ve done exactly what I said I was going to do,” said Ford. “The job is not finished yet. I plan to spend the next six years on getting the job done. Moving forward, we continue to do the work we were elected to do.”
Both allies and political enemies reacted with bemusement at Ford’s moment of “humility.”
“That does not sound like a man who’s remorseful, been chastened, who might have said something like, ‘I have learned from this decision to try to be a better mayor, live within the code of conduct and the conflict of interest act,” said St. Paul’s Councillor and frequent Ford critic Joe Mihevc. “He sounded like a mayor who’s going to continue business as he has in the past two years, which is what got him into trouble in the first place.”
Don Valley East Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who sits on Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee, said he hoped Ford would take the opportunity to reflect further on what he might learn from the experience.
“I think leaders and mayors should learn from important decisions and this certainly was a significant one for the city and significant for him,” said Minnan-Wong. “I do believe this is a time for him to reflect – to reflect on his judgement and some of the decisions he’s made. This has been a distraction. It’s hurt the city, it’s hurt the agenda of running an efficient city. He has the opportunity to reflect on what took place and try to refocus.”
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who just hours earlier was preparing for the possibility he might have to step in as acting mayor, said the only lesson the mayor has to learn is to be more careful, lest he leave another opening for his enemies to exploit.
“I think the lesson is that even if you’re right, you can’t open yourself up to people who are going to take advantage of anything they can to get at you,” said Holyday. “Clearly he was in the right.”
Holyday said he hoped Paul Magder, who brought the conflict of interest allegation forward along with prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby, would face punitive legal costs as an example to others who might wish to take on the mayor in court.
“Hopefully the legal costs will be substantial – and they are substantial – but hopefully their portion will be substantial and that will be a deterrence to others who think they can frivolously drag the mayor through the court system. I suggest to you that those people are close associates of the left side of this council.”
Meanwhile, Ruby’s office issued a statement indicating they will attempt to appeal the matter one step higher – to the Supreme Court of Canada. Ruby acknowledged chances of succeeding in even having such an appeal heard were remote, but worth pursuing.
“We believe that there are serious errors of law in the judgement and we will ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal to that court,” wrote Ruby. “It must be acknowledged that such appeals are not easy, but this remains an important issue for all citizens. Especially troubling is the finding that if a politician raises money from lobbyists and directs that money to his or her own personal interest, such abuse is beyond the reach of government oversight. That raises the possibility of American-style Political Action Committee (PAC) fundraising, which should be of great concern to all Canadians.”