There’s a clear message for politicians in the ouster of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from office as a result of conflict of interest, and that is that it doesn’t matter if you believe yourself to be above reproach: what matters is that everyone is expected to follow the same rules.
It’s hard to look in the mirror and admit that you can be influenced by something. Appoint a friend or colleague to a government job and you can make the argument that you know them and know that they’ll do a good job in the position, so it isn’t really patronage, at least not the kind of abusive patronage you used to see when you were in opposition.
What you forget, of course, is that is exactly the kind of patronage you used to see — it’s just that politicians of different stripes had different friends and colleagues.
Mayor Ford was caught on the same sort of hook: at the top of the food chain, he just didn’t see how the rules could apply to him — and still doesn’t. He argues he was tossed out by a left-wing conspiracy. So be it.
Here are the nuts and bolts: a conflict of interest official with the city issued a report saying Ford should not seek funds for a football charity using city letterhead and contacting businesses and lobbyists who did business with the city. The official said Ford should pay back $3,150 in donations, and council agreed. Council then reconsidered the matter, Ford spoke on the issue and even voted to erase the requirement that he pay back the money.
Conflict of interest rules say you can’t vote on issues where your own finances are involved. Here, Ford’s finances — to the tune of the $3,150 he had to repay — were clearly involved and he voted anyway. It’s pretty much open and shut, no conspiracy necessary. If anything, it’s what you could call incumbent myopia. Since Ford could not conceive that he was doing anything wrong, he obviously wasn’t doing anything wrong.
It’s why Progressive Conservatives in this province can say, in opposition, that the province’s access to information laws are far too weak and then turn around in office and make those same laws even weaker.
They, myopically, can’t see themselves as ever inhabiting the evil, information-strangling world that their Liberal predecessors did. Their changes, viewed from their own side of the fence, are eminently defensible and, because they view the changes only through their optics, they trust in the implicit goodness and clarity of those optics.
Few people in the world wake up in the morning and say, “Let’s do something evil today.”
Yet politicians endlessly hook themselves with their own faulty eyesight — they see themselves one way in their mirrors, and can’t believe everyone else doesn’t have the same view.
It takes a really skilled politician to be able to step outside their skin and say, “OK, I understand why people would think this, even if they don’t really know me.”
It’s far easier to build a bunker, surround yourself with the like-minded, and fire off salvoes blaming everyone else instead.