Is there a curse on Canadian mayors these days?
Seriously, what is going on with this rolling wave of controversy breaking from the east and sucking mayor after mayor into the undertow?
If my count is accurate, at least five mayors have either resigned from office, were booted from office or are facing charges or allegations in court.
- Gerald Tremblay, who resigned recently as mayor of Montreal after his name surfaced during a public inquiry into corruption in Quebec’s construction industry and its ties to organized crime.
- Gilles Vaillancourt, who was mayor of Laval for more than 20 years but resigned a few days after Tremblay. His home and office were searched by anti-corruption investigators and he was accused of receiving kickbacks on construction contracts. He denied the accusations.
- Joe Fontana, who is still the mayor of London, Ont., but facing charges related to federal money he allegedly used to help pay for his son’s wedding reception. The charges relate to his time as an MP.
- Sam Katz, the mayor of Winnipeg, will be in court next year after a citizen accused him of holding a taxpayer-funded party at the mayor’s own restaurant.
- And there’s, of course, Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. On Monday, a judge ordered Ford from office for violating conflict-of-interest rules related to receiving $3,150 from lobbyists for his football charity.
All this news about conflict-of-interest provided me an opportunity to review the Vancouver Charter and see what potentially could get Mayor Gregor Robertson and his councillors in trouble.
The section in the Charter that deals with conflict-of-interest is detailed but it does not spell out what many city hall watchers see as the most egregious conflict in Vancouver politics: elected officials receiving piles of campaign cash from developers and then voting on said developers’ projects.
So why don’t politicians recuse themselves when voting on a project involving a financial backer?
I asked the City of Vancouver about this and was referred to three court cases, including one involving former Nanaimo city councillor William Frederick King.
Court documents show King voted in favour of a construction contract to an associate of King’s biggest financial backer, Northridge Village, a mall developer. King also voted to allow Northridge to have additional access to its shopping area.
The judge ruled there was no evidence of “direct pecuniary interest in the sense that he agreed to vote for these projects in return for their campaign contribution.”
An appeal court judge later ruled “it would not be useful to speculate as to what circumstances could create an indirect pecuniary interest.”
Neither judge said anything about the public’s perception.
For the record, I’ve been around the block many times on this issue with various councillors and mayors over the years and they’ve all assured me they’re not influenced by their financial contributors.
Take that conclusion for what it is — and don’t let the freebies from developers over the years that have included tickets to Canucks games, Cirque de Soleil performances, Bruce Springsteen concerts, other entertainment events and private yacht rides to watch fireworks (dinner included) sway your thinking.
Never mind the millions of dollars received from developers, big business and big unions. Two words: electoral reform.