The strangeness at City Hall has gone on for so long that it almost seems normal. So try applying the same circumstances to another level of government.
Imagine it emerged that a prime minister had been under surveillance by the RCMP as part of a drug investigation. Imagine that he had been associating with suspected criminals and exchanging mysterious packages in gas stations. Imagine that the Commissioner of the RCMP announced he had a video of the prime minister appearing to use illegal drugs. Now, after all that, imagine that the PM refused to quit and accused the Mounties of coming after him because they were angry about cuts to their budget.
Ridiculous. Impossible. A Grimm’s fairy tale. Yet that is the situation we face in the city of Toronto today. Beset by scandal, under pressure to resign, Mayor Rob Ford is campaigning openly to discredit the chief of police.
His brother Doug has accused Chief Bill Blair of setting himself up as the mayor’s “judge, jury and executioner.” The mayor himself asserted in his interview with Conrad Black that Chief Blair is displeased with him for demanding cuts in police spending. “I definitely think this is political,” he said. “Am I happy with the chief? No, I’m not right now.”
It is yet another case of the mayor playing the victim. Whenever he finds himself in a corner, he tries to fight his way out by claiming his enemies are conspiring against him. The media are his favourite target. Now the chief is feeling his lash.
The claim of a conspiracy by the chief to go after the mayor is so obviously absurd that it barely deserves a response. Mr. Ford, after all, is still a free man, and many of his critics say Chief Blair should have moved in to arrest him by now. Asked on Wednesday whether the police investigation was payback for budget cuts, the chief said simply: “Of course not.”
He continued: “We do our job. Our job is to conduct criminal investigations, to gather evidence and to place that evidence appropriately before the courts. It’s exactly what we’ve done in this case and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll do it without fear and without favour.”
That, really, should be the end of it. The chief is a professional through and through and there is nothing in his long record to suggest he would embark on a personal vendetta over something like a budget cut.
The police were just one of many agencies and departments that were asked by the Ford administration to cut back, in one budget round by 10 per cent. Chief Blair was clearly not pleased at having his resources constrained, but Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly says that it is “dead wrong” to claim that the police investigation was payback.
Everyone else involved in the process, save the Fords, says the same thing.
Michael Thompson, who took the cutback message to the chief and sometimes clashed with him over it, says the chief has a “tremendous amount of integrity” and rejects any connection between the cutbacks and the investigation.
So does budget chief Frank Di Giorgio. Budget committee member and city councillor James Pasternak says to make such a connection is not only “totally inappropriate but it’s also factually incorrect.”
Police board chair Alok Mukherjee says there is no connection “between a legitimate police investigation of drugs and gangs in this city and the budget process.”
Yet the Fords continue to insinuate that there is. If anyone is on a vendetta, it is them.
The brothers have been trying to drive a wedge between the chief and his officers, saying over and over how they support “front-line” police. The mayor has even been talking about hiring extra cops. The Fords’ hostility toward the chief is so blatant that some councillors think the pair should stand aside as city council debates the police budget for the coming year. No such luck. Doug Ford showed up when the budget committee discussed it on Wednesday and a combative mayor told reporters on Tuesday that, no matter what, “I’ll be voting on the police budget.”