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Court Finds Toronto Mayor Violated Conflict of Interest

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who sparred with his fellow city councilors on everything from subways to the annual gay pride parade, must vacate his job in 14 days after being found in conflict of interest, a court ruled.

Ford, who has served as mayor of Canada’s largest city for two years, violated municipal conflict of interest rules after voting on a council motion that ordered him to repay donations made to his football fund.

“In my opinion, the respondent’s actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland wrote today in a ruling.

Ford said he would “absolutely” appeal and run in a by-election if one is held. “I’m going to fight it tooth and nail,” he told reporters in front of his office at City Hall. “This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wants me out.”

Ford was accused by Toronto citizen Paul Magder of breaking the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. According to an investigation by Janet Leiper, the City of Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner, when Ford was councilor for Etobicoke North in 2010 he solicited donations from lobbyists for his private charity, the Rob Ford Football Foundation, by using the City of Toronto logo, his status as a city councilor, and city resources while lobbying, the judge’s 24-page ruling said.

‘Gravy Train’

In August 2010 council ordered Ford to repay C$3,150 ($3,169) in donations made to his foundation from lobbyists and corporate donors. Ford refused, ignoring multiple written requests from the commissioner’s office and later voted on a council motion relieving himself of the responsibility to repay the C$3,150 ($3,169) in donations, the ruling said.

“City staff are reviewing the court’s decision,” Jackie DeSouza, director of strategic communications for the City of Toronto, said in a phone interview. “What we really want to get across to citizens is that city business and services continue to be ’business as usual.’”

Council meets tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. and councilors may bring up the verdict for discussion, she said.

Ford, who campaigned for mayor with the slogan “Stop the Gravy Train” often found himself overruled in council. While getting elected in October 2010 with 47 percent of the vote on a vow to expand the city’s subway system, council endorsed a plan for surface rail instead.

Gay Pride

His actions, including a public weight-loss campaign called “Cut the Waist” to trim his 330-pound frame, captivated a city with more skyscrapers under construction than any other in North America yet a chronic budget gap.

Ford, who vowed to stop the “war on the car,” was once photographed reading a newspaper while driving on a city expressway. He declined invitations to attend the city’s annual gay pride parade, breaking with mayoral tradition of the supporting the largest pride parade in North America, to go to his family cottage instead.

Lawyer Clayton Ruby took on the case for Magder, which sought to remove Ford from City Council and prevent him from running in the next election. Ford’s punishment was “perfectly sensible,” Ruby said.

“If you want to hold office you must do so with integrity,” he said at a news conference at Toronto City Hall.

The chances of Ford vacating his seat soon are “minimal” because he will file the appeal and the stay as soon as possible, John Mascarin, partner who specializes in municipal law at the Aird & Berlis LLP law firm in Toronto, said in a phone interview.

‘Bad News’

Ford will claim that kicking him out of office will cause “irreparable harm to himself and the city” because a by-election to elect a new mayor will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, Mascarin said.

“He’s going to have a very good case for a stay,” he said.

Toronto’s small businesses are “apprehensive” at the prospect of the political turmoil that will follow the Ford decision, said John Kiru, head of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, which represents more than 30,000 small businesses in the city.

“The uncertainty that this yields at a very critical time in terms of budget and everything else, I think it’s bad news,” Kiru said by phone from Toronto.

The Ford administration has worked to bring business taxes down in line with residential rates, a process begun under his predecessor, and Toronto businesses want that to continue under a new regime, he said.

Style Change

If Ford plans to run again and be re-elected he’ll have to improve his governing style, John Tory, a Toronto radio host who ran for mayor in 2003, said in a phone interview from Toronto. Tory was leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party from 2005 to 2009.

“In the judge’s eyes he was largely the architect of some of this misfortune.”

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