Editorial: New law unnecessary

The ongoing municipal antics in Toronto have prompted a vigorous debate on whether city council should be able to remove a sitting mayor more easily.

Among those advocating for greater powers are the Toronto Star, which in a recent editorial said council should be able to suspend or remove someone after receiving a report from the integrity commissioner that found gross violations of the code of conduct. So under that scenario, council could suspend a mayor under investigation by police or with a substance abuse problem.

Currently, the law provides for removal upon conviction for a criminal offence with jail time imposed or for a violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. But when considering whether the province should change the law to loosen those rules, it’s worth looking at what other levels of government do.

Federally, the law provides for a parliamentarian’s removal upon conviction for an indictable offence for which the sentence is two years or more. But beyond that, the doctrine of parliamentary privilege also provides for extensive disciplinary powers over members of Parliament and senators. As a result, there was an assumption Parliament could expel a member “for such reasons as it deems fit,” according to a 2012 government report on criminal charges against parliamentarians. Of course, we saw the scope of Parliament’s authority in play recently when the Senate voted to suspend a trio of senators for expense irregularities.

But before we move to expand the rights of a municipal council to remove someone, it’s important to remember a couple of things: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford isn’t facing criminal charges and he’s sitting in the council chamber across from a fellow member, Coun. Ana Bailao, who pleaded guilty to exceeding the legal limit earlier this year (but with no jail time imposed). Ford clearly is unfit to hold office, but how fair would it be to remove him from his job while Bailao remains on council?

Fortunately, city council was able to take care of most of the mayoral dilemma by stripping Ford of his non-statutory powers and limiting his budget. Given that, we don’t need a new law that would allow for excessive discretion to remove an elected politician as the current rules already allow council to essentially express non-confidence in the mayor and circumscribe his role.

Due process is important even if that means putting up with Ford for a while longer. In this case, things worked as they should: Ford can’t do much without the support of his fellow municipal legislators and remains mayor in title only.
Glenn Kauth

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