Tensions at Toronto city hall boiled over on Monday as a special meeting in which council voted unanimously to ask for $114-million in ice storm funding from the provincial and federal governments descended into a shouting match.
“We call this silly season,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said after the two butted heads with several councillors in the chamber, accusing one another of playing politics at the city’s expense. And although council voted to ask for $57-million each from the province and the federal government, councillors still spent much of Monday’s meeting bickering over who was in charge at city hall after the storm.
Councillor Karen Stintz, who intends to run against Mr. Ford in this year’s mayoral election, took aim at Mr. Ford for not creating a clear chain of leadership after the storm. Although the mayor was the public face of the city’s response – holding daily press conferences – the emergency committee was steered by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who was given many of the mayor’s powers late last year.
“Do you think communication could have been improved if power wasn’t split between you and the deputy mayor?” Ms. Stintz asked Mayor Ford.
But the mayor accused Ms. Stintz and other councillors of being absent at the height of the crisis. “With all due respect, you were nowhere to be found either during the storm,” he said. Councillor Ford jumped to his defence too, telling reporters Ms. Stintz is “going unglued,” and at another point, shouting at another councillor: “You’re pathetic. You’re pathetic, sit down.”
Monday’s meeting was the second day council met over funds to help with the ice-storm cleanup. As well as asking for aid, council had nearly 30 votes on requests to staff to explore issues such as creating an emergency reserve financed through the equivalent of a $1-a-month levy for the average homeowner, and a salvage plan for wood from the storm that includes use by artisans and re-purposing for public parks.
Staff are expected to give a report to next week’s executive meeting on the budget implications of the storm.
Mr. Kelly, who has publicly clashed with the mayor on many aspects of the storm response, said he hoped shots taken on the council floor were an “aberrant display of misbehaviour” rather than an example of what’s ahead during the election campaign. “I thought the mayor was very personal in many of his remarks and I thought that was unnecessary, certainly not productive, and I won’t respond to them,” he said.
Asked about the debate, Mr. Ford shook his head and told reporters he was “speechless.” But Doug Ford said it was councillors who were getting personal.
“They decided to play politics instead of ‘how do we fix the ice storm situation?’” he said. With an election coming up, he said, “councillors get a little excited, they’re worried about their jobs – as they should be.”
Mr. Ford is expected to join other municipal leaders from the Toronto area on Friday for a meeting called by Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion to discuss a co-ordinated response to the storm and future extreme weather. Toronto is one of seven municipalities that have voted to ask the province for storm-related funding.
Mayor Ford said he plans to attend Friday’s meeting. Mr. Kelly has not been invited, but said on Monday his staff are “talking to some people,” about it.
“We’ve been very open to working with municipalities, and I think the Premier’s been very clear we’re going to do everything we can to help,” Scarborough MPP Brad Duguid said. “Give us time to receive those requests and we’ll give them full consideration and I suspect that we’ll do everything we can to help.”
With a report from Adrian Morrow