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What Went Wrong for Rob Ford?

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The outcome was inevitable and predictable. Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was found in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Whether one is a supporter of Ford or not, Justice Charles Hackland's decision reinforces the importance of two issues -- governance and trust. Ford failed on both these counts. One cannot use municipal stationary to solicit private donations -- whether they be for a football team or anything else.

The cause or beneficiaries of the donations are irrelevant. Using government stationery implies that the communication is official and may inappropriately carry credibility that is not there. Ford refused to acknowledge that this action was inappropriate and, further, voted on a motion involving himself, which was also a conflict of interest. Only recently did Ford apologize, an action which should have occurred at the outset.

Fortunately, Toronto does not have is a situation that mirrors that in Quebec. We do not have a politician who committed fraud. But Ford did exercise very poor judgment and handling of the issue.

One of the fundamental tenets of good governance is to ensure that those in charge respect the institution and stakeholders they serve and adhere to rules and laws. Lawyer Clayton Ruby stated (see the video) that "it is important for the courts to assert that no one is above the law, Rob Ford included." The building of trust is forged over time and over repeated examples of good governance along with honesty, transparency and integrity. When a leader fails in any of these elements, reaction is strong and swift. Our leaders serve as beacons for the rest of society. We look to them, evaluate their actions and reactions, and use that as a bell-weather for our societal values. Our governance structures are a means by which we demonstrate this.

What went wrong in this scenario?

STORY CONTINUES BELOW SLIDESHOW

Rob Ford Verdict
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1. Rob Ford is a leader who cares less about building trust and more about winning. In his world, building bridges and coalitions to work towards improving the effectiveness of the city was not a priority. His arrogance alienated many and created disharmony and divisiveness. Justice Hackland stated Ford had a "dismissive and confrontational attitude to the Integrity Commissioner," a "stubborn sense of entitlement," and his actions amounted to "willful blindness."

2. There are politicians who have brought their animosity to the political process to demonize and vilify one another. Discussions on important municipal issues are protracted, ineffective and obstructionist, as the sides gear up to fight. If this kind of behaviour were to take place on a corporate board or among senior management, the business would collapse. Shareholders would not allow it.

Politicians are supposed to set the bar for responsible governance, integrity and leadership. Their responsibility is to govern, and govern effectively through compromise and reaching across the aisle, not proroguing legislatures, or by being distracted or dysfunctional. Many politicians in Canada and the US have failed badly and citizens are the losers. Just on the municipal level, three mayors of major cities in Canada are now out of office in as many weeks.

3. The lack of trust and job fulfillment has spilled into the public sphere with important issues set aside while camps and individuals wage personal wars. The infighting, posturing and protracted bickering have wasted time and money. Important issues continue to be ignored. The politicians and the political process have lost their credibility and integrity. Citizens look at this and wonder why they bother to vote.

The situation in Toronto (but other cities as well) has provided a glaring example of what happens in our democratic process. It's not good enough that citizens have the right to vote every four years. It is what happens in between elections that is troubling. No private or public sector company would ever tolerate this level of ineffectiveness and inefficiency. Why do we allow it in our political sector? Politicians should expect as much from themselves as they do from others.