Toronto city council met to discuss water rates and rules with the integrity commissioner on Tuesday, but instead, all eyes were on the controversial mayor as he stood twice to apologize, danced in the chamber, argued with a councillor and received a personal visit from Santa Claus in his office.
After Mayor Rob Ford’s powers were reduced last month as a result of his drug and alcohol admissions, this week’s resumption of city council was expected to mark the return to normalcy. But instead, Tuesday’s meeting experienced one disruption after another involving the sidelined mayor – prompting one councillor to describe it as “the greatest show on Earth.”
Mr. Ford’s apologies on the council floor came early – first to fellow councillors for calling them “corrupt” the day before, and then a surprise apology to Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale for implying in a televised interview with Conrad Black that he might be a pedophile.
“I did not mean to insinuate anything about Mr. Dale personally in my interview with Mr. Black,” the mayor read from a prepared statement. “I certainly did not intend to suggest that he is a pedophile. …
“It is unfortunate that the word I did not say has been ascribed to me by the media,” Mr. Ford said. “But I wish to sincerely apologize again to Mr. Dale if my actual words have caused him any harm or personal offence.”
The apology came after Mr. Dale initiated a lawsuit in response to the mayor’s comments in the Vision TV interview, in which he described a May, 2012, incident behind his house. “He’s taking photos of little kids,” Mr. Ford said of Mr. Dale. “I don’t want to say that word, but you start thinking, ‘What’s this guy all about?’”
But the apology was not enough for Mr. Dale, who calls the mayor’s account of the incident “categorically false,” and is moving forward with his libel lawsuit.
“He didn’t retract anything,” Mr. Dale said. “He didn’t retract the false claim that I was in his backyard. He did not retract that I was standing on blocks or otherwise peering over his fence. He didn’t even retract the false claim that I was taking pictures of his kids,” he said. “Whether you want to call it a non-apology, a half-apology, or an insincere apology, it was clearly insufficient.”
At least a few councillors also took issue with Mr. Ford’s apology to Mr. Dale.
“He’s an expert at non-apologies,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said of the mayor. “He’s been doing it for years. A real apology is: ‘I caused you harm Daniel, I am sorry for that.’”
Councillor John Parker said the mayor needs to learn “that words have meaning and they stick. Apologizing afterwards doesn’t altogether undo the damage that is sometimes done.”
The mayor’s other apology on Tuesday didn’t go smoothly either.
The mayor’s apology – for calling some councillors “corrupt” during a Monday night chamber melee that caused the meeting to adjourn early – came at the urging of Speaker Frances Nunziata. “I’ll withdraw my comments,” the mayor initially said. But, when pressed by councillors for a full apology, Mr. Ford responded sarcastically.
“How about, ‘I am so sorry,’” he said. “Super, super, super, super, super, super, super sorry? So sorry?”
Mr. Ford also managed to get into a heated exchange with Councillor Pam McConnell on Tuesday after she complained that a member of his staff was on the council floor during a vote. According to Ms. McConnell, the mayor accused her of bullying his staff. After she walked away, she was heard saying loudly, ‘Oh please, intimidate anyone around you.’”
“They really need to step back and think about the fact that this is not a circus or a football team,” she said afterward. (Ms. McConnell was bowled over by the mayor at the last council meeting when he rushed to the aid of his brother Doug Ford, who was arguing with a member of the public.)
A number of unusual visitors also dropped in on the raucous council meeting on Tuesday. At one point, the mayor returned to his office to talk to a visiting Santa, who said he was there to pick up a bobblehead doll of the mayor. Also picking up bobblehead dolls (the second edition) was the mayor’s lawyer Dennis Morris, who walked out of the mayor’s office afterwards to tell reporters that, since beginning his diet, Mr. Ford has lost 26 pounds.
And, during a live musical performance by a jazz trio of Bob Marley’s “One Love” in the chamber, Mayor Ford and a few members of council launched into a dance break.
But not everyone was amused.
“It just seems to me that we are not taking it very seriously,” Ms. McConnell said. “The whole world is looking at us and now being able to show Toronto city council boogieing around instead of doing business. It feeds into that late-night show comedy,” she said. “They are making a joke of this democracy.”
With a report from Associated Press