Toronto mayor never read conflict of interest act

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is grilled during the first day of testimony as he defends himself in a conflict of interest court case that could force him from office.
Mayor Rob Ford is seen leaving a Toronto courthouse during a lunch break on Wednesday. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he never read a councillor handbook that spells out the rules for declaring conflicts, or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act he is accused of breaking.

Ford was testifying in a Toronto court on Wednesday, as part of a conflict of interest case that could cost him his job.

While in court, Ford said he didn’t believe he was in conflict when he participated in a vote earlier this year that absolved his need to pay back donations that were collected for his private football foundation.

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Ford is facing allegations that he violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act when he took part in a debate and subsequent vote in February.

That was when councillors decided that Ford did not have to pay back funds that had been collected for his private football foundation two years earlier.

The mayor said neither staff nor councillors advised him that he would be in conflict during the February vote.

Ford also said his decision to vote didn't have a financial impact on the city and that he had planned to speak at the meeting in advance of the vote.

"This is just my personal issue," Ford testified Wednesday. "This does not benefit the city in any way. So this is, to me, is not a conflict of interest."

Donation solicitations flagged

In 2010, Ford used his office stationery to solicit donations for the charitable organization, landing him in hot water with the city's integrity commissioner.

Later that year, the city’s integrity commissioner found Ford had violated the code of conduct for councillors and recommended he pay back $3,150 in donations, some of which had come from lobbyists who did business with the city.

Council adopted the commissioner's findings and sanction in a resolution Ford voted against — but he never made the repayments, despite several reminders from the commissioner.

In February of this year, council took up the matter again at the request of the integrity commissioner, but this time, councillors — including the mayor himself — decided Ford did not have to repay the donations.

When speaking in court on Wednesday, lawyer Clayton Ruby said the mayor had spoken "passionately" and "deliberately," during the February session in which the councillors decided to absolve him from having to pay back the donations.

When Ruby asked if the mayor’s vote had been inadvertent, Ford said that he had intended to vote that day.

But the mayor said he might do things differently if he could turn back the clock.

"In retrospect, I would have declared a conflict," Ford said, referring to the February vote.

Ford sought donations from different sources

The mayor's lawyer, Alan Lenczner, said Wednesday that Ford did speak at the February meeting, but not specifically about the motion that was voted on.

On Wednesday, Ford also answered questions about his football foundation.

The mayor said it costs about $20,000 to start a football team and that he solicits donations for his foundation "from everyone he meets across the city."

He was also asked if he felt he was "using his influence" to solicit donations. Ford said no.

Ruby questioned Ford about his knowledge of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, at times directing the mayor's attention to selected portions of the legislation.

"You've read it to me, but I've never read it," said Ford, who served as a city councillor for 10 years before being elected mayor in October 2010.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did not speak to reporters outside the court on Wednesday. (CBC)

Ford also admitted that he had never read a handbook given to city councillors that outlines their obligations regarding declaring conflicts.

The removal challenge the mayor is facing was brought forward by Toronto resident Paul Magder earlier this year.

If found guilty of violating the act, Ford could lose his job and be barred for running for office for up to seven years. The case is scheduled to continue until Friday. A decision is expected by the end of the month.

With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Pras Rajagopalan, Jeff Semple and Jamie Strashin