If that was a set up to watch the Fords fail, Sun News certainly went about it in a funny way.
Yesterday we told you about our reasons for believing that the Ford Nation "reality show" that aired last night on SNN was the worst kind of crass commercialism/carnival sideshow. I also mentioned the opinion of Sun columnist and political strategist Warren Kinsella that the show was aired specifically so that the Fords' could fail and make their situation worse.
And yet we had softball questions lobbed at them from "persons on the street" that spent minutes detailing the unfair treatment Rob Ford had received. We had Joe Warmington tossing more fluff at them while specifically stating that the show was just a "chat" and not an interview. We had the Fords allowed to blather on for most of the hour with none of their claims in regards to their records as public servants being challenged. And, most egregious of all, we had Ezra Levant, who after a several-minute-long monologue in which he enumerated the transgressions of left wing politicians in a stunning display of false equivalency, actually compared Rob Ford to the late Princess Diana for the media persecution he's received. This constituted the supposed press presence that ostensibly was to keep this a news broadcast and not an infomercial, thus keeping it from contravening election campaigning and contribution laws. Sun News failed spectacularly in that regard. There is no way that Ford Nation could be viewed as anything but an illegal campaign commercial, broadcast with airtime contributed by Sun News, and with the use of this illegal contribution to Rob Ford's campaign occurring outside of the official campaign period.
To that end, I have registered a formal complaint with the City of Toronto regarding Rob Ford's illegal campaign activities. Here is the full text of that complaint:
To Whom It May Concern,
I would like to register a complaint regarding the Ford Nation television program that aired on Sun News Network on the evening of November 18, 2013, at 8 PM.
I believe wholeheartedly that this supposed news broadcast was in fact a candidate's infomercial for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that contravened several campaign contribution and advertising statutes.
It has been suggested that because it was presented as a news show with ostensible moderators asking questions of the candidate, the broadcast did not qualify as a commercial but rather an informational program that would not contravene campaign statutes. I very much disagree. The "interview" conducted was in fact a fawning display of incredible bias. To classify this as a news broadcast would be to allow a loophole in which any candidate could campaign at any time and in contravention of equal time and contribution laws simply by having another person in the room lobbing softball questions at him or her.
Section 66.(1) of the Municipal Elections Act of Ontario, 1996 defines a campaign contribution as "money, goods and services given to and accepted by or on behalf of a person for his or her election campaign." Airtime, studio time, production time, promotional costs, etc. of a weekly hourlong informercial would certainly apply. The questions asked by the "news" network airing the program were so biased toward the candidate, with no challenging of his stated political record and with slobbery fawning over the mayor (at one point commentator Ezra Levant gave a several-minutes-long monologue attacking Ford's ideological enemies and then he stated that he'd prefer Ford on crack over his predecessor David Miller sober; at another point Levant likened Ford to the late Princess Diana) that to call this anything but advertising for the campaign would be laughable. In fact, commentator Joe Warmington specifically stated that the program was not an "interview" but a "chat." Thus this was absolutely a campaign contribution by the Act's definition.
The question now is to whether this was free political advertising or whether this was a provided service, with a monetary value exceeding the maximum allowable campaign contribution, that was provided for free. Both of these would be in contravention of statutes in the Act.
As to the former, section 66.(2), clause (iv) states that "the value of political advertising provided without charge on a broadcasting undertaking as defined in section 2 of the Broadcasting Act (Canada), if, A. it is provided in accordance with that Act and the regulations and guidelines made under it, and B. it is provided equally to all candidates for office on the particular council or local board" is not a contribution. As far as I know, Sun News has not provided any of the other candidates with their own weekly hourlong show. This is because there are no actual declared candidates at the moment because no one can register to run until next year, thus making this entire enterprise take place illegally outside the campaign period. But we'll get to that in a moment. The point is this has already proven to be illegal as far as being free political advertising not provided equally.
This brings us to the latter interpretation mentioned, which is that this was a campaign contribution of airtime with monetary value to a specific candidate. Again, this would fall outside the campaign period, which as I said we'll get to shortly. But it would also be hard to argue that a weekly hourlong infomercial does not exceed campaign contribution limits. Section 66.(3) clause (a) defines the value of a good or service as "the lowest amount the contributor charges the general public in the same market area for similar goods and services provided at or about the same time." In this case that amount would be the advertising rate for a weekly hourlong infomercial aired during prime time on Sun News Network. It's hard to imagine that the advertising rate for such a service as available to the general public would not exceed the $2500 maximum contribution value allowable from any one entity to a Toronto mayoral candidate.
Now, to the issue with the campaign period. Section 70.(2) states that "a contribution shall not be made to or accepted by or on behalf of a candidate outside his or her election campaign period." The campaign period is defined as being after the candidate registers to be on the ballot, which can't happen until January. And yet, during the broadcast, several references were made to the election, including a concluding statement by the candidate's brother, Doug Ford, that the people should decide to vote for Rob Ford on October 27, 2014, the date of the election, even going so far as to proclaim him the only choice between "tax loving people," "social elites," and "Rob Ford." Furthermore Rob Ford has said on several occasions, including in council chambers, that the campaign has already started. Any program on which a candidate is stumping for himself and also has his brother stumping for him, if, as shown above, said program falls into the category of advertising and/or contributed airtime, by definition constitutes a campaign broadcast which in this case would be occurring illegally well before the candidate is permitted to actually begin campaigning.
The only conclusion to be reached here is that Rob Ford broke the law last night. Broke several laws, in fact. The continuation of Ford Nation can not be allowed, as it not only confers an unfair, illegal advantage to Rob Ford, it constitutes a continuation of the lawbreaking already so inherent in the person who still holds the office (if not the powers) of the mayor of Toronto.
I implore you to take action immediately toward the stopping of this program from airing again, as well as any appropriate penalties for contravention of the Act. Haste is necessary as the next installment of this commercial is due to air in less than one week. More airings of this illegal broadcast would do further and irreparable harm to the municipal election process. This must be halted.
Please keep me informed as to the progress of my complaint. I have heard lately that the City of Toronto is running more efficiently than ever. Because of this I would hope that not only will this matter be dealt with speedily, but that notifying me of steps taken along the way as they happen shouldn't be a major problem.
Thank you very much for taking the time to address my complaint,
Andrew Ryan Fox
I only hope that the city will process this complaint and act in time to prevent further blatant breaches of election laws by Rob Ford. They need to step in and put an end to Ford Nation.
h/t to both Jane Gerster of the Toronto Star, who live tweeted the show, and Torontoist, which live blogged it. My internet stream was pretty terrible, so I relied on both of their recaps.
UPDATE: I have heard back from the City of Toronto Elections Coordinator. Here is what I received:
The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 provides at least two ways a person can act on an alleged contravention:
Section 81(1) provides that an elector who is entitled to vote in an election and believes in reasonable grounds that a candidate has contravened a provision of the MEA relating to election campaign finances may apply for a compliance audit of the candidate's election campaign finances. The application deadline under this proceeding is within 90 days of the financial filing due date.
Section 81(17) provides that a person may lay a charge or take any other legal action, at any time, with respect to an alleged contravention of a provision of the MEA relating to election campaign finances.
Please visit our website for more information on election campaign finance rules: www.toronto.ca/elections/candididates.
City of Toronto
So apparently the City can't or won't actually do anything to prevent this illegal activity from continuing. I can either wait until it's too late and ask for an audit, or I can file a costly lawsuit that would probably take too long anyway. Basically there is no remedy for requesting the City prevent illegal activity until after the fruits of that activity have already been borne. Which is ridiculous and ass backwards.
I have taken two steps. One is to ask for clarification on what "at least" means. Does this mean there are potentially other remedies? The second is to send the whole mess over to the office of Clayton Ruby. Who knows, maybe he'll see the merit and take this one on pro bono. Then we could actually have the lawsuit.
Will keep updating as I hear more.
UPDATE 2: Well we have more news. My clarification request was sent up the chain to the Manager of Election Services for the City of Toronto, Arthur Flach. This was what he said:
Hi Mr. Fox:
Thank you for your email which was forwarded to me for response.
Unfortunately the City Clerk has no enforcement or investigative powers in this matter.
In addition to what Linh has advised, the rules for candidates who are also television personalities are prescribed by the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In some cases a politician may be considered an on-air personality. This is what the CRTC website says on the issue:
"On-air personalities are people who are seen or heard on radio, TV or community programming channels. Even if the person's voice is only heard as a commercial announcer, that person is still considered to be an on-air personality. If an on-air personality becomes a candidate in a political election, his/her on-air duties must stop:
· as soon as his/her candidacy is announced
· once the election is officially called, whichever is later
In these cases, on-air personalities who become candidates must go off the air. On-air personalities enjoy unique public exposure, and broadcasters aren't able to offer other candidates similar on-air opportunities."
For further reference see: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/INFO_SHT/b309.htm.
You can contact the CRTC for more information:
If you wish to file a complaint, you may do so online at the following link:
I hope this clarifies.
Manager of Elections Services
City Hall - 1 North 100 Queen St W Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
email: email@example.com Website: www.toronto.ca/electionsSo, again, passed off to the CRTC. Still, I wanted more clarification from my city regarding this, as it seemed to be saying that anyone who's been on the air already can basically say whatever they want, even campaign, without consequences. So I asked for more clarification regarding the word "announced" and I also asked why there's a set campaign period in the law if a candidate can use a private sector-provided resource available only to himself to talk about his own reelection at any given time? I think they're getting annoyed with me over at City Hall though because this is what I got back in response:
You should direct your questions to the CRTC as the language I quoted is theirs, not ours:
If you have any further questions regarding your concerns about the provisions of the Municipal Elections Act, I suggest you contact the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing:
So yeah. I guess the City of Toronto either doesn't believe there was a violation or even if they do doesn't have the power or the inclination to do anything about it. Also I thought that thing about the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing was a little catty. But maybe that's just me. I suppose the next step is the CRTC. I've already filed a complaint (the same words as the one above) with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and await their response.
I'd like to say that I think this situation blows. The candidate is the one breaking the law by illegally campaigning and it's the broadcast regulator I have to appeal to. This is not the way this ought to work (how naive a statement is that?). If a current candidate (or future candidate who's announced he is a future candidate) is acting in contravention of election law, the election administrator should be able to do something about it. He should certainly make some kind of attempt. As I said to Mr. Flach in my last email to him,
...I think this situation stinks. Statutory authority or not as the manager of elections services this behaviour should offend you. It should be incumbent on my city's bureaucracy to recognize when an elected city official is obviously pushing the boundary of if not outright flouting the law and make some attempt to do something about it instead of referring it somewhere else. Not only does what's happening contravene the letter of the law as spelled out in the Municipal Elections Act, it violates the spirit of fair play in a democratic election. A corporate media empire partnering with a candidate to forward his agenda and his alone without regard to spelled-out laws should be anathema to proceeding in the manner spelled out by the Act. As well, my election services manager shouldn't shunt me to a broadcast regulator when it's the candidate who is violating the law.
I realize you guys have no teeth in this matter. But you should want to help find a solution, not want to pass me on to someone else to deal with it.
Anyway, off to another level of bureaucracy. This is how nothing ever gets done about anything--by the time I'm done navigating all of this we'll be voting in the 2018 election. More updates to follow.
UPDATE 3: Aaaaaaand Ford Nation is cancelled! Details here. Think there's any way I can take credit for this? Haha. Anyway that ends the urgency and the necessity for a lawsuit. I will be continuing with complaints to the CRTC as well as to the Toronto Integrity Commissioner (that process has also been started). We'll continue from there.