The Premier of Ontario is expressing concern about the political consequences of the controversy that is plaguing Canada’s largest city.
On a day in which two more staff members departed from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s office – bringing the tally to five since allegations surfaced two weeks ago that Mr. Ford appeared in a video smoking crack cocaine – Premier Kathleen Wynne warned that she is prepared to intervene in the city’s affairs if necessary.
“I’m worried about the situation,” Ms. Wynne said Thursday. “We’re monitoring it very carefully and, as appropriate, we will be involved.”
Not only is the negative publicity hurting Toronto’s reputation, it is difficult for councillors to focus on the city’s affairs, Ms. Wynne said. At a time when the province and the city are supposed to be working out details of a $34-billion transit-building plan, everyone is distracted with questions about Mr. Ford’s leadership.
The mayor’s travails are dominating politics, media and phone-in radio shows in the city. Ms. Wynne spent about three-quarters of an 18-minute press conference she had called to update reporters on policy moves fielding questions about Mr. Ford, who has denied that he uses crack cocaine.
“The mayor needs to deal with his personal issues,” Ms. Wynne said.
Mr. Ford’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, later lashed out at the provincial government.
“They’re up to their eyeballs in scandals, wasting billions of dollars in tax dollars. And she has the nerve – hypocrisy – to come and criticize the mayor,” he said.
For her part, Ms. Wynne acknowledged the province has “no clear path of action.” Government sources said lawyers who are members of the provincial bureaucracy are reviewing legislation that governs municipalities to provide advice on the the government’s options should it need to act, but that Ms. Wynne has not directly spoken with them.
Sources close to Ms. Wynne said the Premier is reluctant to intervene and force Mr. Ford to step down, because that would “galvanize the right.”
Ms. Wynne enjoys the support of many Ontarians who are on the political centre and left of centre, Liberal insiders said. But she is struggling to win over rural Ontario, a stronghold of the Progressive Conservatives.
Myer Siemiatycki, an expert in municipal politics at Toronto’s Ryerson University, said that while the province’s authority over municipalities is absolute, he thinks Ms. Wynne’s decision will be based on politics rather than a legal call.
“It’s a question politically of what a premier deems is both appropriate to the good conduct of local government and what is politically justifiable and sellable to the public,” he said.
Under municipal legislation, it is virtually impossible to remove a city councillor or mayor from office. The City of Toronto Act stipulates that the government can order a municipal by-election if a council has been unable to meet for 60 days.
Ms. Wynne would intervene only if a majority of Toronto city councillors passed a resolution asking the government to force Mr. Ford to step down, one of the sources close to her said.
She might also find allies among the Progressive Conservatives, who distanced themselves from Doug Ford on Thursday, saying he is “not our candidate,” mere weeks after he had been treated as a star for the party over his announcement that he would run for the PCs in the next provincial election.
Leader Tim Hudak has repeatedly praised the Ford brothers for getting expenses under control at city hall. But since a Globe and Mail report said Doug Ford was a high-volume hashish dealer in the 1980s, the party is backing away.
Asked if the Tories would stand behind Mr. Ford, Tory House Leader Jim Wilson said he did not “know the guy,” and that the decision would be up to the local riding association.
“He’s not our candidate,” he said.
With a report from Amber Daugherty