Rob Ford is still Mayor of Toronto, at least until the next self-made catastrophe. He needs to ensure City Hall isn’t a sideshow any more.
The court ruling that allowed him to remain mayor is good for the city. He was elected mayor two years ago because voters liked his ideas about reining in municipal spending. Toronto is desperately in need of stable leadership. Its school board is a leaderless shambles, after a plagiarism scandal, spending overruns and labour disputes. City Hall had seemed headed that way, too. It has been a very long two years.
For Toronto to have been forced to spend $7-million or so on a by-election if he had suffered the mandatory (and in our view excessive) penalty of being thrown off council would have been too much. Faction-driven attempts to appoint a caretaker mayor until the next election two years hence would have been yet another distraction.
Some are describing Rob Ford’s court win as a victory for democracy. If so, democracy won on a technicality – a three-judge panel ruled that the city never had the right to demand he pay back the $3,150 he improperly solicited from business people for his football charity. On principle, the city that voted him in had a right to expect he would follow conflict-of-interest laws – laws passed democratically – and not participate in votes in which he had a direct financial interest.
The city doesn’t need controversies about why Mr. Ford insists on reading while driving on an expressway to work, or swearing at a 911 operator (he called 911 when comedian Mary Walsh was in his driveway), or trying to pass a stopped streetcar with its doors open, or trying to bend the bureaucracy to fix the roads and grounds around his family business. It doesn’t need a mayor who is on the football field (praiseworthy though his volunteer coaching is) when council is debating an $8-billion transit plan. It needs a fulltime mayor who can keep his eye on the ball. Not the football.
The three budgets passed on Mr. Ford’s watch have done much to restore confidence in the city’s finances. Whether he still has the credibility with the public and his fellow council members to be an effective leader remains to be seen. He and council need to put this episode behind them and get down to business.
We hope Mr. Ford has learned the right lesson from all this. He needs to stop trying to bully his way through his term. He needs to stop pretending that the ordinary rules of city life, let alone city politics, don’t apply to him. They do.
Barring a successful appeal by the citizen who challenged him over the conflict of interest, Mr. Ford has a renewed chance to lead the city, and to remind voters why they chose him.