Ask Your Candidate: Ethics and Conflict of Interest

By Lauren Atmore

The line between the personal and political can become blurry for politicians. Whether it’s a misuse of funds, inappropriate use of other resources or the exploitation of relationships, there are many different ways conflicts of interest or ethical violations could arise. We’ve seen a number of examples of all levels of government recently, making it a subject your local candidates should have given great consideration to.

What checkpoints would you put in place to make sure expense accounts are respected?

A number of in-office politicians have been accused of mishandling government funds to support a more lavish lifestyle. This misuse could range from over-priced meals, to expensive flight and hotel upgrades, to trips that weren’t required in the first place. Given the frequency of these occurrences, what do your council candidates think could be done to not only prevent misuse of expense accounts but to ensure the tax payers who pay for those errors are repaid what they’re due?

What can be done to aid those in office in understanding and respecting the finer points of conflict of interest?

Despite Toronto City Council already having a Code of Conduct, there have been a few recent instances of city councillors and even the Mayor himself misusing office resources and influence. Throughout much of 2012 and 2013, Mayor Rob Ford was battled lawsuits claiming that he “let himself off the hook for failing to repay $3,150 in improper donations to the Rob Ford Football Foundation” by voting on matters concerning himself during council proceedings. It was clear Ford didn’t understand conflicts then and has since continued to break the Code of Conduct. If such nuance can escape one of the most powerful people in office, what can be done to make sure the average councillor does not make similar mistakes?

Ethical conflicts do not just affect voter turnout – what do your candidates think can be done about the public perception of Toronto?

The 2014 Provincial election was decided on two main issues: the Liberals’ decision to move proposed gas plants, wasting billions of dollars in funding, and the Progressive Conservatives’ plan to slash jobs as part of a plan to create a million jobs for Ontarians. While the core of each issue is the policy perspective each party offers, the reality of either issue is based in ethics. Wasted money and threats of job cuts while claiming increased employment rates not only puts off voters, but can have economic implications as well.

According to a Bloomberg article, consumer doubts in Toronto’s debt and interest rates “could be seen as an indication of how Toronto is perceived, from a financial and business perspective.” Public doubt in the character of city officials can affect development and investments in the city as well as our global perception. Like any major city, many businesses in Toronto rely on tourist dollars to make ends meet. A bad reputation could mean money out of pocket for Torontonians. What, if anything, do your ward’s candidates think could be done to prevent this, or to restore our city’s reputation?

At the end of the day, conflicts of interested and ethical issues do much more than blow operating budgets and create distracting scandals. Low voter turnout primarily stems from general disinterest or from deprioritizing civic duties. When constituents see that their candidates and officials struggle so greatly with conflicts that seem obvious from the outside, it’s easy to question the moral fibre of all politicians. Distrust and fatigue can easily keep voters at home while headlines and sound bites often misrepresent the facts of the conflict, spreading the wrong information. An engaged, informed constituency is paramount in the creation of a healthy government.

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