Imagine an issue so important, so utterly non-partisan that both the National Post and the Toronto Star — two newspapers of widely divergent politics, perspectives, and ideology — agreed. That issue is that municipal politicians running for higher office should resign from their municipal roles on council.
But our own Mayor Brian Saunderson, running for the Progressive Conservatives, has decided he’s above all that, and will stay in office. I’ve already written that I see his resignation as the only honourable and ethical acrion.
Imagine, too, you’re an employer. A worker comes to you, says his job sucks, and boasts he has sent his resume to another company. But, he says, he will stay on and collect his paycheque from you while they look it over. And before you can say anything — your employee is not a person to tolerate public input on anything — he adds that since they won’t be hiring him for another year or more, he will stay at his lousy job with you, collecting his salary, until they take him. How would you feel?
That’s exactly what Saunderson has told local residents and taxpayers. Even though he’s told us, in essence, he hates his current job, we are still on the hook for his salary while he campaigns for another one. Yet, provincially-elected politicians (MPPs) who run for federal office MUST resign from their position in the Legislature. It strikes me as very hypocritical for a municipal politician running for provincial office not to follow the province’s mandate. *
It is too much to ask of our mayor that he consider the potential accusations of conflict of interest and influence peddling that could arise as he campaigns for support and donations? Is it too much to consider the taint his campaigning could put on the other members of council and town staff, and every one of their decisions? Or how it might polarize his fellow county councillors? Is it irrelevant for him to consider what his fellow councillors must think being told that, assuming he wins both (nomination and provincial election), four months before the next municipal election, he will leave? Collingwood will be without a mayor and council left to squabble over the leadership and filling the vacancy he left behind. Is that mayoral behaviour?
And what happens if Saunderson doesn’t get nominated? He gets to stay in office as mayor, likely a disappointed, and bitter wannabe, with no interest in pursuing his municipal role. We’ve already seen from the $9-million-judicial inquiry how vindictive he can be. And it will be worse if he gets the nomination but doesn’t win the provincial election.
Why are local media silent on this and the potential conflicts of interest Saunderson’s announcement raises? Or how it trashes the recommendations about such conflicts in his beloved, vindictive, judicial inquiry? Where are the howls of outrage and contempt?
In April of 2011, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion told her council (reported in the National Post) that a councillor at the table who was running for MP should resign, as should any municipal politician running for another office (emphasis added):
Councillor Eve Adams and any other municipal politician running for higher office should be forced to resign the moment the election writ is dropped, Mayor Hazel McCallion said Wednesday.
The Mayor told councillors she has spoken with Premier Dalton McGuinty and asked him to align the policies governing municipal and provincial politicians.
“As soon as the writ is dropped for an election, [provincial members running federally] must tender their resignation… I think that should be the same for the local council,” Ms. McCallion said. “They can run for the nomination, but as soon as the election date comes, they should resign.”
And in December of 2011 (also reported in the National Post) Mississauga made a formal request of the province to change the law:
Mississauga council on Wednesday passed a motion calling on the provincial and federal governments to implement new rules forcing municipal councillors to resign their seat before running for higher office.
The piece continues (emphasis added),
The motion’s preamble cites a section of the Municipal Elections Act requiring MPs and MPPs to resign their seat by the close of nominations for a municipal election, suggesting rules should be similar in the reverse situation.
It goes on to note that when councillors seek higher office, “concerns arise about the ability for them to use their municipal office as an election platform and also about how effective they can be as a councillor when they are busy campaigning.”
Surely concerns about a councillor’s effectiveness when running for another office must be echoed in spades for a mayor. After all, he has announced he doesn’t want the job he was elected to do, but plans to stick it out for another 18 months, on the municipal payroll, while he actively tries to get another job. Does anyone really believe he will do his current job effectively, with his fullest effort and commitment to the community? Neither do I.
Consider, too, that he isn’t waiting until the writ is dropped: our mayor has told everyone 18 months ahead of the election he wants out.
In Jan. 2018, TorStar columnist Bob Hepburn also wrote about the issue, taking to task several Toronto councillors running for higher office but still sucking on the Toronto taxpayer’s teat while doing so (emphasis added):
Toronto taxpayers are also on the hook for the salaries of two other city councillors, Shelley Carroll and Chin Lee, while they run as Liberal candidates in the ridings of Don Valley North and Scarborough North respectively.
But why do taxpayers have to pay the salaries of Minnan-Wong, Carroll, Lee and other elected politicians who clearly don’t want their jobs any longer and are openly seeking work elsewhere?
It’s a serious question that taxpayers not just in Toronto, but across Ontario and in most parts of Canada should be asking as they watch local councillors and school board trustees keep their well-paying elected jobs at the same time as they campaign for seats at Queen’s Park or other provincial legislatures or on Parliament Hill.
And here in Collingwood, we have to ask ourselves: do we really want a mayor who doesn’t want us? Who has clearly decided the job isn’t for him? What happens if there’s a scheduling conflict between a campaign or meet-the-candidates meeting and council meeting? I’d bet he would attend the former, and ignore the town business in favour of his personal ambition.
As Hepburn continues (emphasis added):
But if they lose, they immediately return to their old elected job — the one they clearly had considered beneath their abilities and ambitions and no longer worthy of their time — as if nothing has happened.
At the same, though, provincial and federal politicians must resign their seats if they want to run for another elected position.
It’s time that similar rules applied to all municipal councillors and school board trustees across Canada.
If Minnan-Wong, Carroll and Lee and others want to seek higher office, then fine. Having qualified, experienced politicians — of any party affiliation — is good for any government.
But they should quit their current posts first. And if they won’t, then “resign to run” laws should be adopted to force them to do just that.
Those rules still haven’t been fixed, so Saunderson can continue to blithely ignore the ethical dilemma and suck at the municipal tit while he campaigns. He can ignore the concerns of local taxpayers who are paying his salary for a job he for which he seems to lack commitment. **
Is that the behaviour we should expect of a mayor? Do you think that’s honourable and ethical? Neither do I.
Collingwood deserves better.
* In 2010, the CBC reported that “Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Jim Watson has resigned from the Ontario cabinet to run again for mayor of Ottawa. Watson stepped down from his cabinet position Tuesday morning and said he will also step down as MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean before the Ontario legislature reconvenes on Feb. 16.”
Also in 2020, CTV News reported that, “Toronto MPP George Smitherman resigned from his post at the Ontario legislature in a first step towards his bid to run for city mayor.”
In 2018, the Toronto Star also wrote that “Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey is stepping down, and government sources told the Star she’ll be running for mayor of Brampton…”
Why can’t the same rules apply for municipal politicians running for higher office? Is it not hypocritical for someone running for provincial office to eschew their values and rules in order to pursue personal ambitions for a higher office? It seems that if we expect our politicians to be ethical, moral, and accountable without the force of law, we’re doomed to be disappointed.
** The issue also surfaced in York Region in 2017 where a reader asked, “Why don’t councillors resign seat when nominated for higher office?” It came up again in Brampton in 2018, where a story reported “Controversial Toronto City Councillor Running for Brampton MPP,” which noted, “Municipal politicians do not have to resign their seats while running for another office, so all these councillors are safe to return to work should they not get elected MPPs in June. Mammoliti has said that if he is unsuccessful in his bid to become an MPP for Brampton, he plans to return to city hall and run for another term in council.”
Manitoba, however, has a “resign to run” law that forces municipal politicians to resign “the moment they win a party nomination to run for a federal or provincial seat.” CBC reported that a Winnipeg city councillor tried unsuccessfully to challenge that in 2011.