Although Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's likely removal from office is interesting, it is certainly not unique in Canadian history.
Probably the most outrageous political adventure was had by the mayor of Edmonton, William Hawreluk, who was elected from 1951 to 1959, then removed from office for gross misconduct regarding land transactions from which he financially benefited. Although he denied all wrongdoing, he paid the city $100,000 after being successfully sued.
This, however, made him again eligible to run for office. He did so in 1963 and was elected and then re-elected in 1964.
Again, he was removed from office as a result of more personal gains from hidden land transfers while he was mayor.
After vowing to never run again, he sought election in 1974 and was returned to office with almost half of the votes cast. He died in office, a popular mayor, less than two years into his term.
Manitoba politicians elected after criminal charges were following principles their electors clearly supported, rather than seeking personal gain. Louis Riel is surely the most significant.
Following the death of Thomas Scott in 1870, Riel was charged with murder and took refuge in the United States. In spite of his exile, and his murder charge, Riel was elected three times in two separate constituencies, all within less than three years. The people of Winnipeg never accepted the charge against Riel. Although Riel could not take his seat in the House of Commons, one night, disguised in a long trench coat, he snuck into the House and signed the members' registry.
During the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, many of the strike leaders were thrown into jail, under a variety of charges. Fred Dixon was an MLA at the time and a strong supporter of women's suffrage and labour rights. He was charged, along with Ald. A.A. Heaps, with seditious conspiracy. They were both re-elected and Heaps became an MP until 1940. Bill Ivens and George Armstong were elected to city council from their jails cells. John Queen, as well, was in jail during his re-election and went on to become a well-respected mayor of Winnipeg from 1934 to 1942. J.S. Woodsworth, also charged during the strike, eventually became the leader of the CCF during his long stint as the MP for north Winnipeg.
During the 1930s and '40s, Winnipeggers elected a number of communists who ran under a labour party designation. Jacob Penner was elected as a city councillor continuously between 1933 and 1960 including a period from 1940 and 1942 when he was jailed for his communist membership. Fred Rose elected in the '40s from Quebec to the House of Commons had been jailed in the '30s for sedition. After his election, he faced several charges, eventually being convicted of conspiracy. His sentence was one day longer than that required to deprive him of his seat in the House of Commons.
One MP whose actions affected many Manitobans was Frank Howard. Howard served several years in prison for armed robbery, but after his release became a logger and labour leader. Never hiding his past, Howard was elected as a British Columbia MP from 1957 to 1974. A well-respected CCF member, he fought for voting rights for First Nations people, for prison reform and for progressive changes to divorce laws. Shortly after his defeat as an MP, he was elected as an MLA and served for seven more years.
It may not seem fair to discuss an acquisitive William Hawreluck in the same breath as a principled Louis Riel or J.S. Woodsworth. But with the exception of Frank Howard, all of the above proclaimed their innocence and stated they would have behaved the same way in the same circumstances.
Both Sam Katz and Rob Ford have serious and substantial critiques of their time in office and determined opponents. Katz is now fighting his own battle over ethical issues in a case about buying dinner for his staff in a restaurant he owns. It may seem a small matter, as does the current case of Ford and the $3,000 raised for a football team on city hall stationary. It may be that these are just the tip of the ethical iceberg.
But reflections on our history show the electorate have their own views of fairness and those aren't always predictable. If either or both of Ford and Katz are found guilty of conflict of interest, but allowed to seek re-election, there is a very good chance they would win. They may or may not be popular mayors, but the citizens of Winnipeg or Toronto are very unlikely to turf them over an important principle, but a money value of less than $5,000.
Linda Taylor is a Winnipeg writer.