Speaking against a Toronto City Council motion to strip him of most of his powers as mayor, Rob Ford invoked the Bible, said he has always stood with the poor against the rich, congratulated the Hamilton Tiger Cats, promoted his new TV show, and compared council’s actions to Saddam Hussein’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait. Like so much of what the man has said and done over the past few weeks, it was a confusing and sad spectacle. Mr. Ford once again did not explain or even defend himself. Instead he attacked, promising “outright war.”
Mayor Ford is now the mayor in name only. Council overwhelmingly voted to remove many of his powers and most of his office budget, transferring them to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. It’s an unprecedented but necessary response to an unprecedented situation. The crisis sparked by Mr. Ford’s behaviour has been a test of democratic institutions, and there’s no reason to rejoice at the choice that his actions forced on council. In 1974, President Richard Nixon stepped down and boarded a helicopter on the White House lawn, never to return. Those hoping for Mr. Ford to resign, or at least take a leave, were aiming for that sort of clean break. But given that council cannot remove a sitting mayor, this half-measure is the best that could be delivered: Nixon still in the White House, his powers handed over to the vice-president. That’s Toronto now.
“The mayor wants to wage war,” Deputy Mayor Kelly said after the vote. “I would rather wage peace.” Exactly right. The Fords – the mayor and his councillor brother Doug – have always been most comfortable as brawlers against some imagined Toronto establishment, and their talk on Tuesday of “war” and “coups d’état” was designed to raise the temperature. Council’s job now is to lower it. Most councillors speaking in favour of the motion to diminish the mayor did so calmly and with regret at having been pushed into this situation.
The saddest thing is that this probably isn’t the end of the story. All three parties at Queen’s Park now say that, should the council find itself unable to function, they are open to intervening. The next election is still 11 months away, and democracy in Toronto is sailing into uncharted waters.
Editor's note: The original print version and an earlier online version of this editorial incorrectly said U.S. president Richard Nixon stepped down in 1973. In fact, he resigned Aug. 9, 1974. This version has been corrected.