Tory cleared in conflict of interest probe over vote to dial back ActiveTO measures

Toronto Mayor John Tory did not break conflict of interest rules when he voted to dial back ActiveTO road closures on Lake Shore Boulevard this summer, the city’s integrity commissioner said in a report released Tuesday.

Tory was the subject of a complaint submitted to the commissioner in July alleging that due to his ties to Rogers Communications — the telecommunications giant that owns the Toronto Blue Jays — the mayor should have recused himself from the June 15 vote in council.

Tory is a Rogers shareholder and an adviser to the Rogers Control Trust (RCT), a role that comes with annual compensation of $100,000. The RCT, set up after founder Ted Rogers died, is run by family and friends with voting rights. Tory publicly disclosed these connections during his first run for mayor in 2014 and has declared conflicts in relation to Rogers on multiple occasions since he was elected.

In the weeks before the debate and vote in council, Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro wrote to Tory and the city urging them to end ActiveTO traffic closures on Lake Shore Boulevard, and specifically asked the mayor to vote for that outcome. Shapiro said the intermittent closures — introduced after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 — were making it harder for fans to get to games and hurting the team’s business.

During his inquiry, Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty learned that the letter was ghost written by former Etobicoke city councillor Mark Grimes, a vocal opponent of ActiveTO measures that he felt negatively impacted vehicle traffic.

In comments to media, Tory defended Shapiro personally, which “reasonably” raised the question of whether two had communicated about the letter before it was made public, Batty said. But the probe found no indication of that, he said.

“My inquiry found there was no evidence of direct or indirect communication, consultation and co-ordination between the Blue Jays and Mayor Tory,” Batty wrote in his report.

Batty found that Tory does indeed have an indirect financial interest in matters related to Rogers, but said in this case that interest was “too remote” to require the mayor to declare a conflict in council.

“This was because my inquiry found ActiveTO road closures had no adverse effect on the Blue Jays’ financial interests,” Batty said.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference Tuesday morning, Tory said his office had been briefed on the report’s conclusions and added that he was happy with the result.

“I’ve always conducted myself very carefully on matters related to conflicts of interest and I’ve declared those interests when it’s appropriate,” he told reporters.

The complaint was filed by civic activist Adam Chaleff through his lawyer in late July. It alleged that Tory breached the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act when he publicly commented during the debate and eventually voted on city staff’s proposal to revisit the weekend road closures.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate. And I think we deserve a mayor who has one master — the public interest — and not two masters,” Chaleff said at the time. 

The act prohibits councillors from participating in matters where they have either a direct or indirect financial interest. Councillors are barred from using their influence on decisions where there is a direct or indirect conflict. Penalties under the legislation range from a reprimand to removal from office.

Batty’s investigation found that between July and September 2021, ActiveTO measures on Lake Shore only coincided with Blue Jays games eight times. And after that period, no further closures along that route were planned by city staff. When closures did overlap with games, there was no affect on fan attendance, Batty said.

The ruling means that the complaint will not go to a judge, the only authority that can ultimately determine if the act was violated and impose a penalty, the report noted.

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