By now, all of us in the local government community are aware that Toronto mayor John Tory resigned on Friday evening after admitting to an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a much younger staffer. The details of the affair aren’t really relevant for this post; what interests me is how elected officials are human and how humans have failings.
I often opine that the only difference between locally elected officials and the rest of us is that they got more votes than we did. They didn’t go to school to become a councillor or mayor, they haven’t had an apprenticeship where they learned the ropes, and they didn’t get anointed by the party brass. The bar for entry for local government office is quite low and includes being a citizen, living in the area you want to represent, gathering nominations, and paying a deposit. Beyond that, there really aren’t a lot of hurdles to getting one’s name on a ballot.
This is to say that what Mayor Tory says he did is no different than what scores of other private citizens have done over the years. The difference for the mayor is that he occupies a position of public trust within government and was involved with another person who was in a position that reported to him as the mayor.
We hold elected officials to a high standard, even if we don’t always agree with what they do or even like who they are. We expect them to be above reproach, to be trustworthy, ethical, and as transparent as possible within the bounds of privacy legislation. The breach that came to light the other day is one where some of these values appear to have been contravened and principles ignored. Unfortunately, this breach will also confirm in some minds what they always suspected of elected officials of all stripes at all orders of government.
Codes of conduct and codes of ethics are developed and adopted by councils across the country as a way to try and anticipate what might go sideways during a council term and to indicate what types of actions and behaviours are acceptable, and which are not. This is then used as a guidepost during the council’s term. Individuals are measured against what is written and agreed upon, not necessarily against popular opinion or what another member of council thinks.
The specific topic of being involved with someone likely isn’t named in the code itself, but it would be referenced in a catch-all of behaviour expected of someone in the role of council member. In addition, I expect that human rights or employment legislation may also come into play because the mayor was in a position of authority over the other person who was involved. Due to the principles of legislative paramountcy, the contravention of federal or provincial legislation would certainly be a contravention of a municipal code of ethics.
I am unaware whether the timing of the announcement is based on external factors or not, but that too doesn’t really matter. Inconveniently, this resignation comes literally months after city councillors throughout Ontario were elected, meaning there will be a byelection only weeks from now. Until then, the deputy mayor will assume many, if not all, of Mayor Tory’s duties.
There will be another mayoral race in Toronto, and the city will have a new mayor. If the new mayor who gets elected is a current member of city council, there will be another race to fill that spot as well. this will cascade the election period much longer than citizens likely want.
What is your take on what transpired in Toronto, and whether it might have an impact in your province.?
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.