Go Go Go Joe? That’s Not So Black and White

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.

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6 thoughts on “Go Go Go Joe? That’s Not So Black and White

  1. David

    Very well put. If others are distracted by this situation, and can’t stand the heat in the kitchen… well you know the rest.

    Reply
  2. Canucklehead

    Jay,

    As always, you post is both more eloquent and well-reasoned than I could ever hope to be. Of course, there is, once again a ‘but’. While I think you are more intelligent and logical person than myself, it would be difficult to find an opinion more in contrast to mine. (Let’s for the moment ignore those who would rather inflame than engage.) To ‘step down’ and not resign is not uncommon and does not imply guilt (in actual court) and I would suggest that Joe’s action today suggest he cares little of the court of public opinion.

    We are not here to discuss hearsay and rumour, but charges laid by the RCMP, which I might suggest have better things than investigate speculation. This is, as some have previously dsugested, now ‘real’. In turn – I ask. And I mean this honestly – do you change your mind if he is convicted? It seems a silly question to be sure, and I ask only because a small percentage of social media ask that we hold tight until charges were laid, which to them implied we only then should take it seriously. But wait! If convicted (big if) should we in turn wait for the full appeal process to run its course or can we then start our condemnation.

    I’ve been both public and vocal that I believe that for the sake of public trust. the office, the city – he should have stepped aside long ago. Not down. Not out. Aside. In around two weeks he is about to make billion dollar decisions with our money. He’s a cheerleader to be sure. He loves London. Worth noting, my 4-year-of loves London, and I love him – but I don’t let him write my cheques.

    Reply
    1. John Winter

      I need to point out that in an interview with Cudmore today, it was revealed that the RCMP had zero contact with him or Fontana until the arrest warrant was issued. During the investigation, their input was never sought. That alone should raise doubt that this is anywhere near an open and shut case and that we should await his day in court.

      Reply
  3. Pingback: My 2 cents on Joe - StuartClark.ca

  4. Butch McLarty

    Rest assured if the City Treasurer was charged with three money-related crimes away from city hall, s/he’d be immediately suspended with pay until the case was dispensed with after a fair trial where s/he would be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

    The same should also apply to the mayor and budget chief.

    The pattern established by the sham charity purporting to help disadvantaged children, a private wedding reception allegedly paid for by the federal government and the so-called “Romanian affair” (quid pro quo with a local land developer) is clearly not one of behaviour in the public interest, but entirely self-serving ~ as is his decision to remain as mayor pending the resolution of his criminal charges.

    Reply
  5. Michael

    This is a good and fair assessment of Black and White thinking that most of us are guilty of. There are always grey area’s in every situation we need to be reminded about this write-up is a prime example of that.

    However, Joe, or any other municipal politician who is criminally charged is not legally bound to step aside while facing the alleged charges. This is clearly spelled out in the Act, and that’s where the attention needs to be focus on, not the Public figure, but those who made it possible for them to stay in office, the law makers who seemingly uphold every Canadian citizens rights in our Charter, innocent until proven guilty.

    In the meantime, Joe remains our Mayor, if you don’t like it, target the ones who made it possible for him to stay in office….

    Reply

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