Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – on a leave to seek professional treatment for his addiction issues – is facing a growing chorus of calls to resign from business leaders, political rivals and his council colleagues.
The mayor announced he would step aside in the immediate aftermath on Wednesday evening of reports by The Globe and Mail on a new video that shows him smoking what has been described as crack cocaine last weekend, and by The Toronto Sun on an audio recording that seems to capture Mr. Ford in a bar making explicit comments about mayoral candidate Councillor Karen Stintz.
The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, his re-election campaign manager and fiercest defender, said he welcomed his younger brother’s decision to seek professional help, with “a sense of relief,” he told reporters. “I love my brother. I’ll continue to stand by my brother and his family throughout this difficult journey,” he said in a halting voice.
On Thursday, the mayor departed his suburban home with an oversized suitcase, leaving no official word of when he will be back. Mr. Ford’s hiatus comes almost a year after he first became engulfed in a drug controversy.
At City Hall on Thursday, Mr. Ford’s friends and foes expressed relief that he had publicly confronted his personal problems and is seeking help, even if he was vague about his plans. But given the mounting evidence of the mayor’s continued bad behaviour, many also said it was too little, too late from a man who has been a lightning rod for controversy, a punchline for late-night television and the focus of international headlines.
Prime Minster Stephen Harper also weighed in. “The mayor’s comments and behaviour are very troubling. We are pleased to hear [he] has entered rehab to seek treatment for his addiction,” read a statement from his office.
On Thursday, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly took over the mayor’s staff and the final vestiges of Mr. Ford’s authority that were beyond the reach of council in November, after the city’s controversial leader admitted to smoking crack cocaine.
Now mayor in all but name – Mr. Kelly keeps the title of Deputy Mayor – he has the option of appointing a second deputy mayor to assist him. A spokesman from his office said it is undecided whether that will happen. Mr. Kelly stopped short of demanding Mr. Ford’s resignation.
Mr. Kelly characterized events as “a personal tragedy” rather than “a crisis of government,” and left the door open for Mr. Ford’s return.
When that will happen is unclear. Mr. Ford notified the city of his intentions in a two-sentence letter to the city clerk dated April 30 that reads: “Please consider this letter formal notice that I will be taking a personal leave of absence. I will be in contact with you regarding updates to my status.”
Mr. Ford indicated in a statement late on Wednesday he had decided to “take a leave from campaigning and from my duties as Mayor to seek immediate help,” for what he described as “a problem with alcohol.”
Doug Ford would not say where the mayor will get treatment, but some reports said he boarded a plane for Chicago on Thursday with an unknown final destination. The mayor’s lawyer told some media he would be gone for 30 days.
Under the City of Toronto Act, Mr. Ford’s seat would be declared vacant if he misses three consecutive monthly meetings of council unless he gets the consent of councillors. That means he must return by July or get approval for a longer leave.
For many, a leave is no longer enough.
“Go and never come back,” was the message from Councillor John Parker, once an ally of the mayor. “I don’t foresee things turning around in 30 days and I don’t see things turning around at any point sufficient to qualify him to be a serious candidate for high office or to carry on in the job that he’s got.”
The Board of Trade urged Mr. Ford to step aside for the rest of the term, which ends in October. “Under Mayor Ford, there are too many ongoing distractions,” it said in a statement. “Our City’s reputation is suffering.”
Two candidates for mayor – John Tory and David Soknacki – also called for Mr. Ford’s resignation, but former MP Olivia Chow, a front-runner in the race, and Ms. Stintz did not go that far.
Ms. Chow said she was “angry and disappointed” when she learned the latest news about Mr. Ford. “It’s obvious that Mr. Ford is a sick man,” she told reporters on Thursday.
Ms. Stintz, the subject of lewd comments by Mr. Ford in his bar rant, called the comments “gross,” and said she was “disappointed by the misogynistic language used by Mayor Ford.”
But she said it will be up to voters in October to decide whether Mr. Ford keeps his job. “The only people who can remove Rob Ford from his office are the people of Toronto,” she said. “I have faith in the people of this city.”