Councillors are at Toronto’s City Hall for an extraordinary debate that focuses on the integrity of Rob Ford and his ability to continue as mayor, a grilling brought on by a motion from a former ally.
The debate comes a week after Mayor Ford broke with his past denials and admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine in a drunken stupor about a year ago.
In a dramatic moment early in the council session before the debate began Councillor Jaye Robinson stood to read out a petition signed by 30 of council’s 44 members urging Mr. Ford to take a leave to address his “challenges privately, outside of the public eye.”
The petition was signed by councillors for all sides of the political spectrum including five members of the mayor’s executive committee – Peter Milczyn, Michael Thompson, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Gary Crawford and Cesar Palacio.
“Over the past six months, and especially the past few weeks, we have grown increasingly concerned by the seemingly endless cycle of allegations, denials and belated admissions about your behaviour,” the petition stated.
As councillor's names were called, they stood in the council chamber, a visual showing of their support.
Mayor Ford arrived at City Hall around 9:20 a.m., walking past a crush of reporters as he went into his office. He said he was "feeling great" and chuckled when asked about the debate ahead.
"We're going to have some fun today," the mayor declared before ducking into his office.
The motion by Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, which was moved to the top of the agenda by the mayor, asks him to apologize for misleading Torontonians about the existence of a video in which he is alleged to have smoked crack cocaine, to co-operate with police, to apologize for writing a reference letter for an alleged drug dealer and to take a leave.
‘We need to do the right thing. We need to pass this motion encouraging the mayor to take a leave of absence and apologize for lying and writing letters for individuals that have done bad things, and say we shouldn’t be hanging out with gang members and you shouldn’t be using drugs,” Mr. Minnan-Wong told reporters on Wednesday.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said he hoped council would hold a civilized debate, rather than the "bloodbath" his brother Councillor Doug Ford predicted Tuesday.
"I'm hoping things go through relatively quickly and quietly," he said, adding he will support the part of the motion asking the mayor to take some time away, while "looking very closely" at the other parts. He anticipated the mayor would not waver from his resolve to stay in office.
"I think what he said in the past is probably what he's going to be saying today as well."
If Mr. Ford will not go voluntarily, Mr. Minnan-Wong has signaled his intention to amend his motion to ask the province to remove the mayor from office. Mr. Ford continues to resist calls to take a leave of absence and refuses to talk with police.
City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, while maintaining the mayor ought to take some time off, said the morning's motion was a waste of time and taxpayer money.
"We can encourage the mayor to look at doing certain things but you can't force him," Mr. Mammoliti said, adding he believes the mayor has a substance abuse problem and is an "addict of food."
"Most of us that care about the situation have either spoken to the mayor or have relayed that to the mayor's family. I think that's what's needed here. The rest is up to the electorate; it's not up to the 44 councillors."
On his way up to council chambers, the mayor was smiling and seemed in high spirits. He brushed off a recent poll indicating a majority of Torontonians believe he should take a leave of absence.
"I don't comment on polls. There's only one poll that matters and that's October 27," he said, adding he hasn't decided if he'll speak on the motion or not.
"We'll see the cards I'm dealt and I'll play the cards I'm dealt."
Councillor Ford headed up to chambers shortly after. He told reporters the mayor is "feeling like a champion," due to some efforts he's making to improve his personal life, but wouldn't go into details about what those changes are.
"He's doing what he needs to do," he said adding it's up to the mayor if he wants to share those efforts with the public.
As for the morning's motion, he echoed Mr. Mammoliti's sentiments.
"It's a total waste of taxpayers' money. This is all political grandstanding."
Councillor Ford went on the offensive on Tuesday, accusing Mr. Minnan-Wong of trying to use his brother’s troubles to further his own ambitions for the mayor’s office. “I just wish Denzil Minnan-Wong would be honest with the people and say he is running for mayor, rather than grandstanding like he’s doing,” Councillor Ford told reporters.
Later, while greeting the hundreds lined up to spend $20 on a bobblehead, the Etobicoke councillor predicted his colleagues would use Wednesday’s debate as an opportunity to pile on his brother. “They are going to get up, 44 of them, and give my brother a public beating, a public butchering,” he said.
Mr. Minnan-Wong told The Globe and Mail he has not made any final decisions about a possible run for mayor. “I’m not considering anything right now other than the crisis that we have at city hall and trying to get council to speak with one voice,” he said. “Councillor Ford should spend less time as a tackler and maybe if he got his brother off the field he might be helping the city more.”
Councillor Shelley Carroll, a critic of the mayor, said her colleagues don’t want a battle, but a discussion about real concerns. “The burning question, the one that’s most important, is why in heaven’s name would a chief magistrate not simply say to the Toronto Police Service, ‘Of course I will answer your questions,’ ” she said.
While Councillor Ford said his brother has “turned a corner,” the mayor is not saying what action he is taking. “We’re doing very well. We’re doing very, very well and things are going great; absolutely fantastic,” he said during a late-day news conference to encourage donations to help those hit by the typhoon in the Philippines. “Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.”
When asked how he would convince council he doesn't need to take a leave given the turmoil that surrounds him, Mr. Ford pointed to his fiscal record, ignoring his personal follies. “I was elected to come down here and save taxpayers’ money. I can come up and I will give you every single dollar that I've saved,” he said. “I've saved more money than any mayor in Toronto’s history and that’s what I’m going to continue to do tomorrow.”
With a report by Marcus Gee