For years, Vaughan regional councillor Mario Ferri has run advertisements in local newspapers, honouring students with the La Rocca Youth Bursary awards.

The awards recognize qualities such as virtue, altruism and generosity. The ads always include a photo of a smiling Ferri, highlighting his role as founder and chair of the La Rocca Memorial Society, named in honour of a Second World War hero from Italy’s Sora region.

“I do this because I believe in it,” Ferri said of the youth bursaries and another set of volunteer awards he gives out to about 1,200 residents every year in the form of prints of paintings he commissioned. He said it is all about building community spirit. There is no doubt that the awards recognize good work.

But what makes it controversial is the fundraising in the tens of thousands of dollars that he, like other councillors, are legally allowed to conduct for personal causes. In Ferri’s case, over the last 10 years he has raised $125,000 for two causes and overseen its distribution.

The city’s new integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig, put councillors on notice, saying such fundraising, sometimes from companies that come before council, needs to be addressed.

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