If Rob Ford loses his appeal and his ouster from office is confirmed on Friday, it will set off a frenzy of politicking unlike anything modern Toronto has seen. In the past few weeks, with the decision looming, city councillors have been busy gaming out various scenarios for how to replace the mayor and who to put in his place.
Should they call a by-election? Should they appoint a caretaker to serve out the rest of Mr. Ford’s term? Should they reappoint Mr. Ford himself?
The options are often argued through on the ground of principle. Would it really be democratic to put an unelected caretaker in charge until the next election in October, 2014? Is the $7-million it would cost to hold a by-election too dear? Would it be a slap in the face of the courts to reappoint a man just ousted by judicial ruling? These considerations weigh heavily on councillors, who would be facing a grave and unprecedented decision: how best to fill the shoes of a mayor ousted halfway through his term.
But in the end, politics will mean as much as principle. When city council meets to determine the next step, many councillors will make their final call based not on which option is the most fitting but on who they want to see in the mayor’s chair. In procedural terms, says Adam Vaughan, “you consider the process before you consider the candidate, but the candidate will drive the process.”
In other words, those who prefer an appointment in principle might ultimately vote for a by-election if it doesn’t look as if the person they favour would be appointed. By the same token, those who prefer a by-election in principle might opt for appointment if the candidate they want isn’t running. Some of those in council’s left faction, for instance, would go for a by-election if NDP MP Olivia Chow confirms that she would run but accept a caretaker if she doesn’t and it looks as if someone on the right might win the vote instead.
Some councillors on the left are suggesting that the best way forward might be to propose an appointment first.
One faction would favour reappointing Mr. Ford. Others would support someone else. Under this scenario, competing candidates would cancel each other out, no one would get a clear majority of council votes, and council would default to a by-election. Councillors could then say they had no option but to hold a vote, despite the cost.
But that is just one possible screenplay for this movie. The situation is so fluid that is impossible to tell which way it will go. If the court judgment is harsh, strongly upholding a lower court’s ruling that the mayor was willfully blind when he stepped into a conflict, then the idea of simply reappointing the mayor is likely to fade. If it is a more equivocal judgment – the infraction was minor, we really don’t like this law much but we have no option but to uphold it – the picture changes.
The coming report on the mayor’s election finances could play a part, too. If he is found to have violated campaign-financing rules as well as the conflict-of-interest law, the scales tip further against him. “I think it would be wrong for council to make a decision until we get the next piece of information,” says councillor Paula Fletcher.
If council decided to appoint a caretaker from its own ranks, the candidates could include Gloria Lindsay Luby, a council veteran from Etobicoke who has already expressed her interest, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, Etobicoke-Lakeshore’s Peter Milczyn and Deputy Speaker John Parker. If, in a less likely event, council looked outside its own ranks, former mayor David Crombie and broadcaster John Tory are names that are being put about.
If it went to a by-election instead, TTC chair Karen Stintz, downtown councillor Adam Vaughan, former budget chief Shelley Carroll and Don Valley East councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong are possible candidates from within council. Councillors are already meeting with political organizers to look into lining up campaign financing.
The possibilities and permutations are endless. If Mr. Ford indeed loses his job on Friday, then we are in for a wild ride.