Councillor Josh Matlow

Globe and Mail: Toronto City Council’s expense policy applies to all, councillors say

Follow the rules.

That’s the message councillors from across the political spectrum have for Mayor Rob Ford’s unconventional approach to financing routine expenses such as supplies, stationary and his cellphone bill.

For the first three months of 2011, Mr. Ford claimed to have spent just $1,718.46 on a 17-person staff. City policy requires members of council to disclose all expenses, including those paid for with private funds.

“If there are procedures to be followed, I would expect them to be followed,” said deputy speaker John Parker (Don Valley West), a former Progressive Conservative MPP during the Mike Harris era. “Council’s expense policy applies to everyone.”

Josh Matlow (St. Paul’s) agreed. “I think it’s important that every one of us is completely transparent about how we spend other people’s money or our own.”

But deputy mayor Doug Holyday, who is currently trying to negotiate a deal over reduced councillor budgets, said Toronto residents aren’t bothered by the fact that Mr. Ford appears to self-finance his political duties. “I’ve not had any complaints come my way about Ford’s expenses at all.”

Mr. Ford built a potent political movement by attacking other councillors’ expenses and making a point of spending almost nothing for his own office.

But a Globe and Mail investigation this week found that receipts for basic expenses such as office supplies and cellphone subscriptions for the mayor are missing from Mr. Ford’s office disclosure reports. Council rules say that office expenses must be disclosed publicly – even if they are paid for with private funds – to ensure transparency and a level playing field for the city’s elected officials.

In 2007, auditor-general Jeff Griffiths found Mr. Ford failed to disclose a wide range of such costs. “The non-disclosure is not in compliance with policy,” he wrote.

At the time, council approved Mr. Griffiths’s recommendations for tightening the council expense policy by a 24-14 margin. Several key Ford allies – including Paul Ainslie, Norm Kelly and Giorgio Mammoliti – supported the move.

As it happens, Doug Ford reports even fewer office expenses than the mayor. From Dec. 1, 2010, to the end of March of 2011, he claims to have spent nothing at all on his council office operation, even on basic supplies like business cards and cellphone subscriptions for himself and his staff.

While he is a rookie councillor, Doug Ford is not unfamiliar with the policy. In his 2007 report, Mr. Griffiths noted that he interviewed Doug Ford, then president of the family-owned printing company, Deco Labels and Tags. As Mr. Griffiths noted, “Mr. Doug Ford indicated that any services or goods provided to Councillor Ford by Deco Labels and Tags Inc. are paid for by the councillor at fair market value.”

At council Thursday, however, Doug Ford refused to answer questions about how he pays for his own council office expenses. “I don’t appreciate your article. We have no comment. We just don’t like spending taxpayers’ money.”

Some left-leaning councillors like Joe Mihevc and Gord Perks argued that Mr. Griffiths or Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper should examine whether Mr. Ford is adhering to council policy. “Transparency is not an option,” Mr. Mihevc said.

But while Mr. Matlow said he “wouldn’t be disappointed” if such an investigation occurred, he stopped short of calling for one. “I didn’t come to City Hall to focus on such issues.”

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