Politicians should come with qualifications

Joan Butler
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The ongoing saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford raises several interesting questions about the standards of behaviour for elected officials in our country.

The first is that if Ford were a city employee, he would likely be fired, which is what labour and employment law professor David Doorey told The Globe and Mail newspaper in an interview published Nov. 13.  

In his regular blog on employment law, Doorey, a York University law professor, also addressed the potential firing. In his entry about the Ford story, he points out that employees in Ontario also have the law on their side when it comes to addictions and are given one or more opportunities to get assistance before they can be fired.

In the Ford case the mayor claims he doesn’t have any addiction, so the employment law would not offer him protection if he was a regular city staffer.

Another question that arises from the Toronto story is how we accept such a lower standard of behaviour from our elected officials. Doorey also notes this, saying that we expect more accountability from regular employees than we do our elected officials.

As a former municipal employee — I worked with the town of Conception Bay South at one point in my career — I am sure that I would have been fired if I engaged in any of Ford’s activities, or was suspected of any of the allegations against him that have been mentioned through various court proceedings.   

The other question that the entire debacle raises is how our democratic process ensures that almost anyone can run for public office. Yes, there are some minimum regulations such as residency, age, not being in tax arrears, but there are no requirements to determine suitability for the job. Being well-known, popular and having a good team behind you to get the vote out on election day seem to be the main ingredients for election to public office.   

Fortunately, many of our elected politicians bring valuable education, skills and experience to the jobs and to their town, province or country. However, we all know that in some cases in our country, we have politicians who would not get the job if they had to compete for it as part of a regular job competition.

We require that our teachers, accountants, lawyers, electricians and auto mechanics have the required education and qualifications before they are hired or allowed to practise their profession. It is common knowledge that there is no use applying for the job if you do not have the minimum qualifications, because you will not even get an interview.

Working with a municipality is no different. Our town of Conception Bay South, like others, requires staff to have minimum qualifications for all jobs. Why is that all the staff need to be properly educated and trained and then many of the final decisions on their recommendations are made by people who are elected regardless of their education and experience?

We require chief executives, directors and managers of agencies and businesses, those who are running multimillion-dollar enterprises and making decisions, to have some minimum experience or education or both. Yet, our democratic system puts similar decision-making power into the hands of elected officials.

And as we see in Toronto, there is no easy way to remove someone from elected office. Again, most of our elected officials are qualified, competent and heed the advice and recommendations of staff and fellow councillors. Unfortunately, the situation in Toronto is making a mockery of our democratic system and our country.

Joan Butler is a lifelong resident of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. She can be reached by email at joanbutler@ymail.com.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, York University

Geographic location: Toronto, Ontario, Kelligrews

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