The sandbox tiff between Toronto City Councillor Paul Ainslie and Mayor Rob Ford appears destined to land on the doorstep of the City's Integrity Commissioner. When it does, Commissioner Janet Leiper would be well advised to reject the complaint out of hand. The credibility of her office, and the integrity of Toronto's government, is at stake.
Toronto City Council created the office of the Integrity Commissioner in 2004, hot on the heels of a major city purchasing scandal. The commissioner was intended to oversee the council's new Code of Conduct for members. The code's major purpose was to identify and prohibit activities likely to lead council members into the kind of trouble that could give root to scandals, bribes, misuse of power and other nasty malfeasance. It also stipulated that members of council should, by and large, be respectful of one another.
The Code of Conduct and the Office of the Integrity Commissioner should have been a big deal. Perhaps they were when launched. Ten years later, however, it's all devolved to a sad state. Most complaints investigated by the commissioner involve allegations of felony rudeness and second-degree hurt feelings. These days, members of council put footballers to shame, diving like the best of them in order to draw political yellow-cards on their opponents.
At best, the commissioner has become an anachronistic Miss Manners, overseeing schoolyard tiffs between belligerent bullies. At worst, the Integrity Commissioner has allowed the powers of her office to become a political foil to be suborned for purely partisan purposes.
A quick review of the Integrity Commissioner's reports to council demonstrates how badly the office has been sidelined. Most complaints involve politicians complaining about each other's verbal comments. Other complaints involve political activists waging a war of harassment against their political foes. Last year, one case even involved a major newspaper trying to bully a politician into granting it interviews because to do otherwise was "unfair."
What's missing entirely from the list of Integrity Commissioner reports, however, is any evidence the office is investigating anything that truly matters.
Consider this. In the past six months, there have been a number of news reports of councillors benefiting from their positions in questionable ways. One report implied a councillor might have benefited from questionable loans possibly associated with votes at council on matters of importance to the lender. Another report suggested two councillors might have enjoyed unrealistically low rental charges for properties they may occupy or sublet from developers who have business dealings with the city.
Anyone who spends more than a few hours at City Hall will hear rumours about members of council living beyond their visible means or taking unusual interests in the advancement of odd issues. But no one has heard anything to suggest the Office of the Integrity Commissioner has any interest in these allegations.
As Toronto's Integrity Commissioner prepares for the arrival of Mr. Ainslie's complaint, she would be well served to remember why her office was created in the first place. She would do every citizen of Toronto great service if she refocused her efforts on investigating issues that truly threaten the integrity of Toronto Council and the city's government.
Ms. Leiper should have no time for petty political bickering. When Ainslie arrives to lay his complaint, she should look him square in the face and tell him to "put on his big boy pants" and get on with his job. Appointed to a five-year term that ends in 2015, she has just enough time get on with hers.
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