By Jason Menard
Right and wrong are supposed to be easy concepts. There’s supposed to be a clear definition of the two, but as has been illustrated by the allegations — and now charges — against London’s mayor Joe Fontana, various shades only serve to cloud our perceptions.
One would think that there are only two sides to this story: one side thinks that Fontana should temporarily step away from his position until the charges have been dealt with; the other side — including the mayor himself — feels that he’s been given a mandate and should continue in that role while the legal proceedings progress.
If it were only that easy. Unfortunately, this black-and-white dream world is coloured by a number of various hues: Liberal red, Conservative blue, NDP orange, the sunshiny yellow of optimism and altruism, and — let’s not forget — the not-so-faint greenish tinges of envy, jealousy, and greed.
The mayor and his legal counsel, in an incredibly poorly designed press conference today, aggressively responded to the issue. In a combative style, both affirmed Fontana’s decision to stay the course. And despite my vehement disagreement in how they presented their case, it is one that I tend to agree with — to an extent.
The simple fact of the matter is that Fontana has only been charged. Despite what many of his opponents — and a handful of politically motivated opportunists — want to believe, he has yet to be tried and convicted. For him to step down based only on allegations or charges would actually be irresponsible to council.
Simply put, if Fontana stepped aside due to these allegations, he would establish a precedent where any elected representative would be expected to remove him or herself from their duly elected role for nothing more than an allegation. Where do we draw the line? And how do we protect our political system from those who would file malicious — and false — charges in the future for personal and political gain?
Actually, we already know how — we let the system do its work. Sometimes we need to hold our noses; sometimes we have to make the best of it, but in the end we have to trust in our legal system.
And we have to trust in our elected representatives. Fontana is not the be all and end all of London council. This is not the U.S. presidency where he has veto power. He is but one vote and one voice in council. The responsibility — as it always does — lies with us as constituents to ensure that our elected representatives stand up for our communities and act in a manner that best serves our interests.
Fontana is under no legal obligation to leave the mayoral role. There is no provision, as there was in the police board, that mandates one’s removal in the event of charges. But what about the moral role?
Again, who is to determine that? There have been a few, loud voices calling for his resignation for the benefit of the community. There are those who say he is unfit to lead budgetary discussions as a result of these allegations of financial impropriety. And there are those who state that the stench of these charges permeates the entire city and its reputation.
But what if? What if he is as innocent as he proclaims? Would any of us, in a similar position, be so quick to step aside from our roles if we knew in our hearts that we were innocent of these charges? In the absence of legal obligations to do so, would we want to stop doing our jobs — and, in the case of these charges, potentially for a year or two — because of charges that we deem to be false?
There was a lot of discussion today about the court of public opinion. I, as many know, am skeptical about how large this court actually is. Does a small percentage of social media commenters and a collection of people who vote in on-line polls adequately and fairly represent the entire community? Would it not behoove some media outlet to commission a poll so that Joe and Jill Average Londoner’s voices are heard?
To me, the Twitterverse’s insistence that the ‘vast’ majority want Fontana out rings just as hollow as Fontana’s insistence that everyone that speaks to him and calls him want him to stay the course.
But what I do know about the court of public opinion is that perception is all too often reality. If Fontana was to step down, then it would only serve to solidify the perception of guilt in a number of people’s eyes.
In the end, we need to trust in the process. We may not like it, but we already have our checks and balances. We have 14 other councillors who must listen to their constituencies and vote for the betterment of their communities and the city as a whole. We as constituents must work with our councillors to unshackled them from the paralysing malaise that has gripped this community.
And we must trust in the very laws that our society has established. That’s a black-and-white truth.