By Marcus Baram
Several of Ontario’s largest law firms are advising clients to stay clear of the newly elected mayor of Toronto as he goes through a big rollout of new online government services, as well as a possible audit of major city contracts awarded since 2013.
Doug Ford, whose brother is Ontario Premier Patrick Brown, is trying to hire his brother’s chief of staff as the city’s new chief executive and has gotten rid of a number of agency executives. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) filed a grievance over Ford’s appointment to the city’s executive committee, which is tasked with reviewing public sector contracts.
The councilor-turned-mayor’s website, scl.toronto.ca, is largely the same thing that was in place during his brother’s time in office and includes information on city services and government services. The site also includes resources for newly elected politicians that come with resources from their own campaign finance. That includes information on how to make the transition from holding down a seat to being a mayor. Ford is also working to build a business registry to provide a “disaster recovery service” to businesses.
He has vowed to issue 2,500 background checks for new city employees and has formed an ombudsman to investigate if city employees are “filth” or conducting an illegal campaign in the mayor’s first year in office. While it is theoretically possible for citizens to file harassment complaints against officials, Ford can’t issue a cease-and-desist order, as Ontario municipal law does not allow the temporary removal of public office holders.
Now, the law firms of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Balfour Beatty and Bechard Law are warning clients in a letter sent to clients that Ford’s administration may apply for contracts, seek audits of city contracts that are currently being administered by the previous administration, or not pursue all. Some clients may be turned down for contracts, while others may be asked to perform work of a higher value.
“The office of the mayor has also revealed the province is currently conducting an audit of all current contracts approved under the outgoing mayor’s tenure to determine whether or not city services were overpriced,” the law firms wrote. “It is reasonable to assume that a new administration, with no audit and full control over the process, may have more and/or different priorities than the existing one. It may end up deciding that the current contracts are ‘legitimate.’ Or it may decide they are fraudulent and not worth continuing, or it may decide to invalidate them.”
Osler lawyers Lauren Crabb and Rebecca Randall said that some companies may continue doing business with the city because they are beneficiaries of public programs. They pointed to an applicant for $3 million from the Interlink program, which provides loans to small companies to aid with their operations, which has been informed that “due to a change in administration, the applicant will be treated as if it were not eligible to participate in the program as of today,” according to the letter.
“In our view, all of the activities now being discussed are creating grave risks to the non-compliance provisions of the Constitution Act,” the law firms wrote.
Crabb and Randall said, “Our legal interpretation is that an elected official acting in the public interest can only be removed from office when he or she engages in conduct or activity that specifically constitutes breach of the provincial or municipal Integrity Act,” noting that “the only politically motivated actions by the office of the mayor that could legitimately be in question are his or her decisions to stop funding the off-street cycling network, to stop funding the Exhibition Place operation, and to cancel the City of Toronto.”
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