Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is Mr. Zero Smiling Sam next?

Zero compaison' to Toronto's Rob Ford, says Mayor Katz
By Joyanne Pursaga
Monday, November 26, 2012

As Toronto’s mayor was kicked out of office Monday due to a conflict of interest, Winnipeg’s mayor addressed his own risk of meeting the same fate.

Cathay House restaurant owner Joe Chan is suing Mayor Sam Katz over his decision to hold a holiday party for city council and staff at Hu’s Asian Bistro, a restaurant he owns. Critics say this is a conflict of interest because the mayor spent just under $3,000 in public cash at his own business.

A hearing on the matter will occur April 2
.
Katz said the allegations are false and totally different than those levied in Toronto.

“No, it’s not related at all ... It’s unfortunate but I think people should know an apple is an apple and an orange is an orange,” said Katz.

In Ontario, a judge found Mayor Rob Ford guilty of a conflict of interest for speaking about and voting on a report on how he raised money for a football charity. Ford plans to appeal the ruling.

Katz said his own case reflects a baseless accusation that has nothing to do with his role as mayor.
“It doesn’t get in the way of me because when something is frivolous, it’s frivolous,” said Katz.

Katz’s lawyer said he’s confident he can get the case thrown out.

“We are not dealing here with a council- or city-business-related conflict. It has nothing to do with that ...

Chan’s application is silly and frivolous,” said Robert Tapper.
Joe Chan begs to differ.

“First of all, clearly you can’t send business to your own restaurant,” said Chan. “He’s guilty like hell.”

Chan said it’s just not fair to see tax dollars spent at a private business owned by the mayor.

“I want to stand up for myself, my industry,” he said.

Chan’s lawyer David Matas said the case has merit because the mayor used the public purse for private profit.

“It was his restaurant and he held a party the city paid for. It should have been held at a place where he had no financial connection,” said Matas. “We’re dealing with thousands of dollars here.”

If found guilty of a conflict, Katz could lose his post as mayor and possibly be ordered to pay for the party.
Arthur Schafer, the director of the University of Manitoba’s centre for professional and applied ethics, said he believes both Toronto’s and Winnipeg’s mayors crossed ethical lines.

“Our mayor doesn’t get it and Mayor Ford of Toronto doesn’t get it. He doesn’t see that he’s done anything wrong,” said Schafer. “It looks terrible because it is terrible. It is a violation of his duty.”

***
The conflict legislation used to oust Toronto’s mayor is in place in Winnipeg but could stand to be strengthened, according to one city councillor.

Councillor Jenny Gerbasi, who led a successful call for a conflict of interest commissioner at City Hall in 2009, believes that commissioner could help deal with perceived conflicts more easily and efficiently.

“I do believe we need more tools because, unfortunately, people’s trust in elected officials is kind of at a low because of some of these things,” said Gerbasi.

But a commissioner hasn’t been selected. The city asked the province to appoint someone, while the Manitoba government said the city can do this alone.

Meanwhile, Councillor Dan Vandal said he was surprised by the Toronto mayor’s apparent lack of understanding about his public responsibilities.

“Anytime a mayor or high-ranking politician is asked to resign, it’s big news, it’s a surprise. You wonder how someone can be that out of touch,” said Vandal. “It’s not that hard to act with ethical behaviour.”
A Winnipeg ethics professor said recent local political controversies indicate the risk of conflicts remains high.

Arthur Schafer, the director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said conflict-of-interest legislation is critical to protect democracy.

“It’s about trust. Democratic government requires that the citizens trust the integrity of the officials they elect,” Schafer said. “Democracy can’t survive and flourish once the people have lost trust in elected officials.”

Conflict of interest changes coming anyway?

In 2009, Councillor Jenny Gerbasi called for council to add a "conflict-of-interest" commissioner in 2009 after Sheegl was hired to a key city post.

She reiterated those calls in September.

The city asked the province to select an objective commissioner years ago but the province told the city it could act alone.

Back in the fall, Katz said he was willing to discuss that option.

"It certainly is possible. I think it's something that is definitely worthy of discussion down the road," he said.

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