“An integrity commissioner’s job should not be to weigh someone’s actions against their future political prospects”
If I ever encounter marital troubles, I want the name of Matt Brown’s marriage counsellor. After a mere eight days on leave of absence from his mayoral post as he purportedly worked on spending more time with his family and recapturing their trust, Brown returned to work with a pledge to move forward. It was hardly a mea culpa, in that Brown didn’t really apologize in a manner that went deeper than his words.
I wrote in my previous column about the affair between Brown and his then-deputy mayor, Maureen Cassidy, who resigned from her post as deputy but took a leave from council, noting its hypocrisy coming from a man who campaigned on integrity. Admittedly, his elected predecessor, Joe Fontana, set a fairly low bar for integrity, but Brown’s conduct post-affair hasn’t done much to restore the confidence that he seeks from Londoners.
Brown voluntarily met with the city’s new integrity commissioner, Goderich lawyer Greg Stewart, for “advice” following admission of the affair. The integrity commissioner can be called in to advise council and councillors or to investigate potential wrongdoing. Earlier on in the saga, Stewart was approached by London media with inquiries as to whether the situation would warrant his involvement. He said little more than what amounted to ‘maybe, maybe not.’ But, in an interview with The Toronto Star, he went so far as to refer to the ‘stories’ about Brown and Cassidy as ‘trite’. In the legal profession, that would seem to amount to prejudice in its most literal form.
It was mere days later – after his meeting with Brown – that he declared an investigation wasn’t necessary because public statements from the two parties involved gave him all the information he needed. Stewart said that the pair violated three separate provisions of council’s code of conduct, which is ultimately the integrity bible for the city’s lawmakers. “In light of this disclosure, I believe that to conduct any further search for details would be to engage in an exercise in seeking out the salacious details of the situation – an exercise which, other than satisfying curiosity, would serve no purpose.”
While I agree that some further details might solely offer voyeuristic appeal, I disagree with Stewart’s assessment that no further information is required: the question of how long the affair lasted is still unanswered, and an answer to that would address whether any of Cassidy’s duties or responsibilities were impacted for better or for worse by her relationship with the mayor. One notable example of this is Cassidy’s position on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Furthermore, Stewart never explained how he went from thinking allegations were trite to concluding they amounted to several code of conduct violations – ostensibly without any new information coming to light. In Stewart’s report, he references an unspecified number of complaints he received from Londoners regarding the affair. One of the infractions relates to a provision that requires councillors to “perform their duties in office and arrange their private affairs in a manner that promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny.” Another section requires that councillors not “place themselves in a position of obligation to any person or organization which might reasonably benefit from special consideration or may seek preferential treatment.”
It was clear from the moment the story broke that Brown had not upheld his oath of integrity, though seeing it in writing from the integrity commissioner, whom his council hand-picked, was particularly delicious. Alas, it also proved to be meaningless. Stewart did not recommend a punishment, and even went so far as to say that Brown’s and Cassidy’s bad public relations outcomes are enough of a punishment. “The public nature of these disclosures and the resulting public comment and criticism is in and of itself a significant penalty,” he wrote. “By their conduct, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor may well have caused irreparable harm to what many considered to be promising political careers.”
An integrity commissioner’s job should not be to weigh someone’s actions against their future political prospects. In fact, the toothless integrity commissioner, whose first test in London was this affair, didn’t even so much as offer a slap of the wrist. Council, on the other hand, could have done exactly that by suspending Brown’s pay for 90 days. Even though the mayor was found guilty by his own integrity commissioner, his only punishment was a week of self-imposed exile and a stern talking-to from council – a unanimous reprimand as Brown’s wife and minister looked on from the gallery.
I am on the record as having doubts about the integrity commissioner since news broke of his Liberal ties, which were not disclosed to Londoners when his appointment became made known. Stewart was a riding association president for the Ontario Liberals in Huron-Bruce, the riding in which he lives and works, and also fundraised for the provincial Liberal Party. The revelation didn’t discredit him from office, but it reminded Londoners how little was known about the man who was selected during closed-door sessions after council yanked the public tender that had been issued for the position.
After saying, on the record, that the affair seemed like little more than office gossip, Stewart then declared that Brown ran afoul of the code of conduct, but conveniently recommended that no punishment be implemented. The council that appointed Stewart then proceeded to accept, without question, his apparent idea that no penalty was warranted. Just as a dictator has no mandate for democratic leadership, an integrity commissioner selected by a non-transparent process has no mandate to be the arbiter of integrity for those who hired him. This comes as good news to the rest of council though: Brown has led by example and proven that integrity doesn’t matter after all. And even if it did, there’d be no one there to enforce it.
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