Toronto City Council rebukes mayor for conflict of interest in supporting Bell on CRTC ruling.
John Tory Internet Letter:
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It didn’t take long for Toronto Mayor John Tory to land in hot water. Who knew it would be an internet issue that would do it?
Well, maybe it’s not that surprising if you’ve been following along.
Last week, Toronto City Council issued a stinging rebuke of the mayor for a letter he wrote to the federal cabinet in support of Bell Canada. The company is petitioning cabinet to overturn a CRTC decision, made last year, that will let smaller, independent internet service providers rent access to its fibre network so that they too can offer super-fast speeds to customers.
Bell argues that the decision, if allowed to stand, will act as a disincentive for it to continue investing in such networks. Tory, the former head of Bell’s supposed arch-rival Rogers, echoed the line in his letter:
“Companies that are prepared to make these vital investments deserve to be treated fairly. I would urge you take the necessary action to protect Toronto’s global competitiveness and future economic prospects,” he wrote.
If the federal government does overturn the CRTC decision, Rogers will benefit as it too will be exempted from having to offer indie ISPs access to its network.
“I’ve declared a conflict on Rogers-related matters. I don’t take part in discussions regarding regulating or doing business with Rogers or anything to do with that. I’ve been very open with my past and continuing relationship with the family so it’s all on public record. I’d say I’d follow the rules and I do.”
Nevertheless, he remains involved with the Rogers Control Trust, which oversees the company’s controlling shares, and has at least $5 million in shares in the company.
Twitter users saw this as a cut-and-dried issue:
John Tory holds $5M Rogers shares, wants CRTC to stop small internet from accessing Bell, Rogers infrastructure. Conflict of interest?
— John Oakley Show (@am640oakley) February 5, 2016
— Arwen Long (@ArwenLong) February 5, 2016
— Jon (@JonHorvatin) February 5, 2016
For John Tory sees internet access as the sole domain of the big telcos when in fact it must be a public utility affordable for all
— trapdinawrpool (@trapdinawrpool) February 5, 2016
On Thursday, Toronto City Council agreed and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion, brought forward by Councillor Mike Layton, stating the opposite of Tory’s letter. The council joined Calgary in agreeing with the CRTC’s initial ruling last year, which will support more consumer choices for internet providers.
“I hope it sends a message to cabinet that they should uphold the CRTC decision to have more competition in the internet marketplace,” Layton told the Toronto Star. “Really, the mayor shouldn’t have sent a letter without the voice of council behind it. I’m unsure why he would have.”
Indeed, he shouldn’t have. Tory should now withdraw the letter and apologize for sending it in the first place.
Had the mayor wanted to make his personal views known on the matter, he could have done so in a number of ways without attaching the weight of his office to it. But, as Layton points out, Tory instead attempted to voice Toronto’s official position while making an end run around City Council.
As some Twitter users suggest, his predecessor Rob Ford was heavily criticized for similarly using the mayor’s office to further his own interests. Ford has faced conduct probes and lawsuits for his alleged conflicts of interest. Tory could be exposing himself to the same.
Bell, meanwhile, continues to show how empty its rhetoric is on the issue. Chief executive George Cope told investors on a conference call last week that the company continues to aggressively roll out its gigabit fibre. It’s happening despite the likelihood of indie ISPs getting access to it, which is supposed to be a major disincentive to such investment, according to Bell – and Tory.
The mayor isn’t doing himself or his electorate any favours by supporting such specious arguments.