On a day when calls for Toronto’s mayor to step aside came from councillors on the left and the right, Rob Ford emerged for the briefest of moments from his city hall office to make one thing clear – he’s not going anywhere.
But his continued presence in the mayor’s seat ratcheted up tensions at city hall on the eve of budget talks and as Toronto faces challenges on key files such as transit and social housing. As support among councillors continues to crumble and the line lengthens of candidates on the right ready to take him on in next year’s election, Mr. Ford’s political agenda also is in danger. Mr. Ford, several councillors say, no longer has the credibility to do the job or their trust to push his platform forward.
Councillor Mike Del Grande, once a loyal lieutenant of the Ford administration who steered through its cost-cutting agenda as budget chair, said the mayor is just one vote on council. His power of persuasion guides the agenda, Mr. Del Grande said, and Mr. Ford has lost the many supporters who wanted tighter controls over spending.
“He has lost moral authority,” Mr. Del Grande said. “I think the honourable thing for any honourable politician to do is to step aside.”
Councillor Jaye Robinson, booted from the mayor’s executive earlier this year after she suggested Mr. Ford should answer questions about his personal behaviour or take a leave from office, said the controversy will only get worse as long as Mr. Ford stays in office.
“It is not going to settle down; it is going to escalate,” she predicted. “It is going to be a firestorm.”
Mr. Ford’s defenders were quick to point out that none of the allegations has been proven. “It’s all hearsay,” his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said of police interviews with former members of the mayor’s staff and telephone records of calls to alleged drug dealer Alessandro Lisi from the mayor.
Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, who as the new budget chair will kick off the debate on the city’s 2014 fiscal plan Friday morning, said he is not going to “judge anyone.”
Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor’s executive who is considered a possible election rival, chose his words carefully Thursday, saying Mr. Ford has some explaining to do to supporters. “If these allegations are true, it will be a big disappointment to all those people who support the mayor’s agenda,” he said.
Others questioned how Mr. Ford, whose denial of the existence of a controversial video is at odds with statements from the city’s chief of police, can be trusted in a political context. “I think no one can deny, the story is now true,” said Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby of allegations that the mayor was caught on video allegedly smoking crack cocaine. “What else is he lying about? … What else is happening here?”
A surreal atmosphere settled over Toronto City Hall as news of the contents of court documents filtered out and Police Chief Bill Blair announced his force had found a video of Mr. Ford. School groups queued to see the mayor’s haunted house, but the man at the front desk answering calls – Mr. Ford’s long-time staff member Tom Beyer – was the same individual cited by police as having dozens of phone conversations with Mr. Lisi. Mr. Ford faced a throng of reporters, telling them he had no reason to resign and intended to keep running “a great government.”
After reading the documents and listening to the police chief’s news conference, Councillor Paula Fletcher said enough is enough. “I think many people have given the mayor the benefit of the doubt until this time. That day is over,” she said.
“What’s the mayor doing in a parking lot in his Escalade behind his old high school?” she asked. “Why has he said the video doesn’t exist? The chief of police has now said there is a video and the mayor is in it.”
Councillor Shelley Carroll said Mr. Ford should take a leave, and let the deputy mayor and the public service get on with the business at hand. “We have a budget to determine for next year, water rates and garbage rates to decide and we need the person leading that process to have real currency in the public because we have big decisions.” she said. “It is time for him to admit that his personal life has overtaken his professional life.”
With Mr. Ford digging in his heels, it is unclear what will be the next card played at city hall. Asked whether he believes the mayor can survive Thursday’s onslaught of damning news, Councillor John Parker, offered only this prediction. “I guess we’ll see.”
With a report from Kaleigh Rogers