An audit committee voted not to launch legal proceedings against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford despite the fact an audit of his 2010 campaign found it overspent the authorized limit by more than $40,000 and contravened election law dozens of times.
The three-person compliance audit committee issued its split decision Monday. John Hollins, the former Elections Ontario CEO, moved a motion in favour of legal proceedings, but municipal-affairs lawyer Virginia MacLean and chartered accountant Douglas Colbourne voted against it.
Mr. Ford, speaking with reporters after the vote, proclaimed it a "great day for democracy."
"I'd like to thank the people of Toronto who have supported me through thick and thin. I will never forget this. I will never take it for granted. It remains an honour and a privilege to be your mayor," he said.
The audit, released earlier this month, found Mr. Ford's campaign went over the $1.3-million spending limit by 3 per cent. The audit also found the campaign contravened the Municipal Elections Act in several ways – from spending before the campaign formally started, to accepting corporate and cash contributions, and to obtaining "generous credit terms" from the family business.
Tom Barlow, the mayor's lawyer, told the committee the contraventions were technical breaches, reflected a difference of opinion, or were the results of good faith or inadvertent errors.
Mr. Barlow argued mistakes happen, even with expert accounting advice, and that a prosecution was not in the public interest or likely to succeed.
Heidi Rubin – the lawyer who represented Max Reed and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, the Toronto residents who filed the complaint – told the committee "Rob Ford was no rookie."
She said the long-time councillor should have known how to run a campaign without overspending and argued it was in the public interest to prosecute.
Mr. Chaleff-Freudenthaler said he was disappointed by the vote because it created a grey area in which politicians can overspend without being held to account. He said it also opened the door to more candidates borrowing through companies that do not meet the definition of a bank or recognized lending institution.
John Mascarin, a municipal-law expert with the firm Aird and Berlis LLP, said the committee's decision was not a complete surprise. He said the committee might not have thought it was worth waging a court case since the mayor only overspent the limit by 3 per cent.
The committee members did not explain the reasons for their votes.
With a report from Elizabeth Church