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Cheer up, Toronto: Rob Ford's Not the Only Misbehaving Mayor

12/04/2013 12:44 EST | Updated 02/03/2014 05:59 EST

Far too many leaders these days are in it for themselves.

"There's no respect for the constitution, for the rule of law, for democratic governance," he said.

Three guesses as to who "he" is. Mayor Rob Ford? Senator Mike Duffy? Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair?

Nope, although those words could easily been uttered from any of the three. It was actually stated by Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala, Uganda after he was ousted from office by his fellow councillors, following a 29 to 3 vote on November 25.

Showing remarkable restraint, Lukwago made no colourful metaphors regarding Kampala city council invading other sovereign nations, but police did have to fire tear gas into a crowd of protesters in the wake of his dismissal. Nor was he accused of anything as exotic as crack smoking, drunk driving, and dubious behaviour at public events. No, his crimes were far more banal: failing to convene meetings, telling his citizens to withhold taxes, and disobeying various administrative directives. How boring.

Another mayor in another distant land shows more parallels to Rob Ford's case, at least when it comes to process. Norway actually began discussing the viability of firing its elected officials after the mayor of Vågå, Rune Øygard, refused to resign after accusations of sexual assault in 2011. This caused a furor as he was repeatedly asked to resign by his fellow councillors, and even by the Norwegian Prime Minister, who had counted Øygard among his mentors before this accusation. The former "Municipal Figure of the Year" was eventually found guilty of the repeated sexual assault of a girl 37 years younger than himself and sentenced to four years in jail in December 2012. Only then did this mayor actually resign, while Norway embarked on a self-flagellating debate to repeal the law that protected elected officials behaving badly from being fired.

It may be difficult in some parts of the world to fire municipal politicians, but not so in others. Xu Zongheng was unceremoniously ditched as mayor of Shenzhen in Guangdong province in 2009. Lest I be accused of channeling Justin Trudeau, I shall only say that the Chinese seem to have little patience for misbehaviour by politicians and rather blunt processes in place to deal with such municipal miscreants.

This mayor was actually heralded as a strong reformer until allegations arose of underhanded financial dealings, especially surrounding the construction of facilities for the World University Games held in Shenzen in 2011. He was actually given the death penalty for his sins in 2011, but given a two-year reprieve. No word yet as to whether or not this reprieve has been or will be extended.

There are hints that Ford's type of behaviour, and in particular his adamant refusal to resign, are becoming an ugly trend. Florida congressman Trey Radel was recently convicted of cocaine possession in Washington, DC, and while he has admitted his problem and is on leave in order to go into rehab, he is not resigning despite a barrage of cries for him to do so.

And of course there is the case of the poster boy of bad behaviour, Italy's ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was finally thrown out of the Senate after his conviction of tax fraud. Reports indicate he will not go quietly.

The one recent exception seems to be Latvia's Prime Minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, who resigned after the wake of the recent mall collapse in Riga that killed 54. Latvia's longest-serving Prime Minister, he was credited with avoiding the bankruptcy of his country after the 2009 recession. There were no personal failures, no addiction, no public misbehaviour. This leader simply felt he had failed the people who elected him and decided he could no longer serve them. A refreshing difference, but perhaps a loss for his people.

And therein lies the difference.

Far too many leaders these days are in it for themselves. They reach high and want to go higher. They easily forget the people they were elected to represent in their thirst for power.

So will we be inflicted with a Prime Minister Rob Ford? Well, perhaps in his own mind he still harbours such ambition. The beauty of democracy is that we, the electorate, ultimately make those decisions. We can learn from our mistakes, even if the politicians can't.

Lee Tunstall is an adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary and holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge.

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