Why Rob Ford's election win should be separate from the legal case against him

I feel like the guy who turns on the lights and turns off the music at the party -- attended by many of my friends -- but I'm still not keen at the prospect of mayor Rob Ford losing his job due to a legal case against him based on a small conflict of interest in a matter he shouldn't have voted on.

Many good citizens are looking forward to this because they think he's a terrible mayor and bad for the city. No argument there. But I see it as a potential abuse of democracy, even the flawed kind that we have.

If an elected official breaks the law, he or she should certainly face charges. If found guilty they should be fined, even jailed. But unless it's totally unavoidable, they shouldn't have their election voided except -- there are always exceptions -- if his election itself was the result of the crime. Democracy is democracy and the law is the law. They co-exist, one isn't superior to the other. If an official is turned out, it should be by the same process that put him in.

(I also don't think people should lose their Order of Canada awards if found guilty by a court. Many honourable people have broken laws. There's no essential connection between the service they were recognized for and breaking a law. But I digress.)

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.

There are precedents here. Toronto's first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, was elected to Upper Canada's colonial assembly four times. Each time his rich opponents found a way to have his election declared invalid. Each time he ran again and his constituents returned him. This sounds jarring since there's so little in common between Mackenzie and Ford. They're political opposites. It would be a shame to create a valid point of comparison.

There was nothing fraudulent about the way Rob Ford became mayor. He won the election fair and square. He didn't even outspend his opponents, which wouldn't have been illegal. He didn't rely on dubious judicial decisions, the way George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the U.S. in 2000. It may be dispiriting but it wasn't illegal or immoral and the flaws it exposed are built deep into the system.

I also think the democratic process on its own is working just fine in the matter of the Ford mayoralty, in fact better than it has worked for a long time. Since he was elected, he's shown himself incompetent, lazy, deceptive and out of sync with policies voters want. Being mayor allowed that to become apparent to citizens. His own allies and sycophants on council have largely abandoned him and deferred to the kind of city that citizens have shown they want. His opponents on council have toughened up, they've grown shrewder and more strategic. His destructive schemes, like closing libraries, have often been stymied and where they haven't, as in privatizing garbage collection, people will get a chance to see what they're actually worth and draw some real, versus rhetorical, conclusions. The next election will take place with a smarter electorate and more exposed candidates, including the mayor. 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?

I don't know if I should also mention that the lawyer bringing the case against Ford, Clay Ruby, is one of my oldest friends, going back to when we were 11. It doesn't seem to matter since I think he's dead wrong on this but what the hell, since it's all about conflict of interest, I'll toss that in too.

This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: West Annex News/Flickr

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