Toronto council has decided to extend the ombudsman’s contract for two years instead of five, a “compromise” that had some of the mayor’s foes praising him for demonstrating a rare willingness to bend.
Ombudsman Fiona Crean’s job hung in the balance for much of the day Tuesday as councillors scurried around the chamber trying to cut a deal that would keep Mayor Rob Ford and his allies from blocking her reappointment.
“I just want to make sure that we’re all in this together,” Mr. Ford told his colleagues before the vote. “If we’re not, it’ll be unfortunate because I am compromising, I am reaching out.”
Council supported the mayor’s motion by a wide margin, 41-3.
Ms. Crean has been in the mayor’s sights for weeks, ever since she released a report that concluded his office meddled in the recruitment and appointment of citizens to city boards.
The mayor also suggested abolishing her office – along with those of two other watchdogs – and replacing them with a single lawyer on retainer.
By a fluke of timing, council had to decide Tuesday whether to extend Ms. Crean’s contract, which was set to expire in November 2013.
Complicating matters further, a two-thirds super-majority was required to hand Ms. Crean another five-year term.
That meant the mayor, whose grip on the 45-member council is usually weak at best, needed only 15 votes to block her reappointment.
When it became clear that Mr. Ford likely had the votes, a few members of his camp and some of his staunchest left-leaning opponents began hammering out a compromise, one that could extend Ms. Crean’s term and keep Mr. Ford from looking like a mayor out for political revenge.
The mayor even thanked some by name in his speech. “I think this is a fair compromise. It should carry,” he said. “I want to thank, obviously, on our side, Councillor [Peter] Milczyn and Councillor [Karen] Stintz, on the other side, Councillor [Pam] McConnell, Councillor [Paula] Fletcher.”
Ms. Fletcher, usually a foe of the mayor, later told reporters she wrote the compromise motion the mayor moved. Mr. Milczyn said he got involved toward the end, suggesting the two-year figure council ultimately endorsed.
TTC Chair Karen Stintz, a key broker, paced the chamber flashing two fingers – for a two-year deal – as the compromise came together.
Councillor Doug Ford said the outcome showed his brother is “maturing as mayor.”
But Councillor Adam Vaughan, the mayor’s most outspoken critic, dismissed the compromise storyline.
“The mayor wanted [Ms. Crean] gone. She’s still here. That’s a win [for us,]” he said.
Ms. Crean, meanwhile, spent much of the day in the public gallery talking to councillors and watching the diplomacy unfold.
“I’m delighted they’ve extended the term. I’m disappointed it’s not five years as the legislation calls for,” Ms. Crean said in an interview.
However, she said the debate was not good for an office that exists to help ordinary Torontonians fight city hall.
“The uncertainty that kind of debate provokes is unhealthy,” she said.
Councillor Gord Perks, one of the three who voted against the deal, slammed the arrangement.
“This city council has sent a message to public servants that their job is contingent on whether or not the mayor likes what they have to say. That’s terrible for Toronto and Torontonians.”