The Ford brothers always say the same thing when they are accused of breaking the rules: that their enemies are plotting to bring them down.
Even before an audit came out on Mayor Rob Ford's finances on Friday, Doug Ford was accusing left-wing critics of leading a "witch hunt" against his brother. Without producing any evidence, he suggested that unions were funding a campaign to unseat the mayor before the end of his term in 2014.
"This left-wing activist group keeps coming after us," he complained. "It's absolutely terrible for democracy." As he has often done in the past, he said the Fords' critics are simply bitter about their defeat in 2010. "These folks have their hands in the cookie jar ... and Rob has cut it off," he told CP24 television. "They want to politically kill him," he told reporters. "That's how much they despise Rob Ford."
"If you go down to root causes on this, folks, you see it's the special interest groups," he said later. "They're going to continue going after us. Why? Because he's privatized the garbage. He's cut down on the unions. ... He's cut the office budgets across the board. And when you do that – you make the cuts – they're coming after you."
There is particle of truth in all that. A small group of activists have indeed been making it their job to trip up the mayor – though there is nothing like the vast left-wing conspiracy the Fords seem to imagine. But here is the point: no one would be able to come after them in the first place if they didn't leave themselves wide open by playing fast and loose with the rules. The campaign audit found that they had started spending before the formal start of the campaign, had borrowed money from the family firm and had accepted corporate donations – all "apparent contraventions" of the election-spending law. Though the amount by which they exceeded the spending limit seems small in the scheme of things – about $40,000 – the auditor cited dozens of violations.
Doug Ford shrugged off some of the findings as minor matters of "interpretation," but campaign-spending rules are strict for a purpose: to ensure that there is a level playing field among candidates. They also protect against undue influence and shadowy backers. The aim is to keep election funding, once conducted in smokey back rooms, open and above board. A mayor who has made transparency in government a priority should understand that.
Instead of simply following the straightforward rules that govern political life in this city, the Fords have repeatedly strayed outside of them. When they're caught, they say the rules must be wrong.
Questioned about the audit, Doug Ford said on Friday that there are "massive problems" with the City of Toronto Act that sets the rules for city governance. "There are certain things in the Toronto act regarding fundraising that you gotta look at," he said, adding that he might even run for provincial office to change that "draconian" law.
The pattern has been the same throughout Mayor Ford's term. When he got into trouble with the city's Integrity Commissioner, he suggested abolishing her office, along with two other city accountability offices. Suddenly, they were "a waste of taxpayers' money." When Ombudsman Fiona Crean suggested the mayor's office had meddled in city appointments, the Fords tried to block her reappointment.
The way they frame it, they are on a righteous crusade to liberate the city from a left-wing elite. If anyone questions their conduct, it must be a plot to thwart them. They, of course, are the victims. "Very few people, very few families, would put up this harassment day in, day out. It's relentless," Doug Ford said.
On the other hand, very few mayors have run afoul of the rules so often. If the mayor's enemies are taking aim at him, it is because he gives them so much ammunition.