When city council resumes debate on the controversial island airport expansion next year, Mayor John Tory will not be there.
On Friday, Tory announced he would declare a conflict on anything to do with his eldest son’s interest in the airline industry, which includes Billy Bishop Airport, according to the city’s integrity commissioner.
Tory also announced he has stepped down from the board of directors at Rogers, but will not leave the advisory committee of the Rogers Control Trust.
The announcement came just days before Tory is set to take office.
“During the election campaign, I was clear with voters that if I was elected Mayor, I would follow all of the rules and act with the integrity, honesty and professionalism that the public rightly demands,” he said in an emailed statement.
Tory said he made the decision to declare those conflicts, under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and city’s code of conduct, on the advice of external counsel, including prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby.
Tory’s son, John A.D. Tory, is the CEO of Private Air Inc., which has a regional office at Billy Bishop Airport. The Act defines a conflict to include the financial interests of council members’ spouses and children.
During the campaign, opponent Olivia Chow demanded Tory be transparent with voters and declare an interest before the election. At that time, Tory promised to follow the rules if elected and to consult the integrity commissioner.
“I cannot in good conscience interfere with my son’s ability to earn an income and support his family because of my decision to seek public office,” Tory said of his decision.
In a letter to Tory sent Friday, integrity commissioner Valerie Jepson recommended Tory avoid not just the expansion issue, but any matters to do with the airport before seeking legal advice.
Norman Di Pasquale, acting chair for the No Jets T.O. advocacy group, said they have always agreed Tory had a conflict.
“We absolutely welcome that he’s recognizing this conflict now. But we expect too that his staff also won’t take place in any discussions involving the island airport expansion,” he said.
Di Pasquale said they are concerned Tory may still have indirect influence behind the scenes. Vic Gupta, Tory’s new principal secretary, has lobbied council members in support of the expansion during his previous role at lobbying firm Sussex Strategy Group. Tory’s chief of staff, Chris Eby, also previously worked for Sussex.
The Act also outlines members of council should not try to “influence” voting on any issue they may have an interest before, during or after any vote takes place.
Former councillor-turned Liberal MP (Trinity-Spadina) Adam Vaughan, a vocal opponent to jets at the island airport, said ultimately the challenge before Tory is on the waterfront.
“Who is the waterfront being built for? Is it being built for the people or is it being built for Bob Deluce?” Vaughan said, referring to the Porter Airlines president and CEO. “With or without the airport on John Tory’s desk, the waterfront is still very much an active file and where he chooses to put city resources is critical.”
On Rogers, Tory said he is prepared to step away from any council or local board matters involving a “Rogers-controlled company” regardless of whether the Act legally requires it.
His decision to remain on private boards and trusts connected to Rogers stems from a “moral obligation” to close family friend, the late Ted Rogers, Tory said.
The control trust oversees “signification transactions” that impact the company’s assets, according to Rogers’ records. Tory has been on the advisory committee since 2010. He also personally holds almost $5.5 million in company shares.
The integrity commissioner’s letter says that “due to the complexity of the Rogers entities,” and the company having “several interests” with the city, Tory has promised to establish a framework to screen any potential interests.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and a legal ethics expert, said Tory should be making public a list of all the potential conflicts Rogers may have with the city.
“He should be working out with the integrity commissioner to make a very full declaration of all the possible holdings of Rogers that could be affected by city council decisions so that everyone can help maintain the screen,” he said.
Tory also declared an interest in his wife’s home renovations company, which he said does not have any current relevance to future debates at council but could arise in the future.