And so it comes to this. On Monday morning Mr. Justice Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court will hand down his long-awaited decision on Rob Ford’s conflict-of-interest case. If the ruling goes against the mayor, he faces removal from office only halfway through his four-year term.
Whatever you think of Mr. Ford, that would be unfortunate. The infraction he is charged with is minor in the scheme of things. It certainly doesn’t rank with the corruption scandal that brought down the mayors of Montreal and Laval. Tossing him from office because he spoke up in his own defence and voted in his own favour at a city council meeting would strike many people as extreme, even if he broke the rules.
His removal would throw city politics into turmoil and confront city councillors with two unpalatable options: Appoint someone to serve out the rest of Mr. Ford’s term or call a by-election. Either way, the business of city government would surely stall as the whole mess got sorted out.
Appointing an interim mayor would put councillors in the awkward position of making a call that should properly be up to voters. And who would they choose? A right-winger who would carry out Mr. Ford’s mandate? A centrist who would better reflect the will of council?
Names are already being tossed around: deputy mayor Doug Holyday, the genial conservative and former mayor of Etobicoke; TTC chair Karen Stintz, who seized leadership from the mayor when his ill-considered transit plan went off the rails; Josh Colle, a well-liked rookie who has managed to avoid partisanship; even someone from outside of city council like former Ontario Conservative Leader John Tory. But being a caretaker mayor would be no treat for anyone. What real power would he or she wield, lacking a mandate from voters? Calling a by-election, on the other hand, would cost $7-million and pitch the city into an unwanted campaign in the middle of winter. Assuming a vote could be organized as early as January, the winner would hold office for only 21 months, until the next scheduled election on Oct. 27, 2014. If things go as usual, campaigning for that election would start in early 2014, little more than a year from now. What that would mean, in effect, is a continuous election campaign for the next two years.
If Mr. Ford were disqualified from running again (an option open to the judge), it is not impossible to imagine his brother, Doug, running in his stead. How about this prospect: Mayor Doug Ford. If the mayor were not disqualified from running again, he has said he would plunge immediately into campaigning to be re-elected, whether in a by-election or in 2014. Going on past performance, he would claim he was driven from office by left-wingers bitter at his original victory and determined to halt his war on gravy at city hall. Who knows? It could work – Ford fights back against those who thwarted the will of the voters.
So even those who would dearly love to rid the city of Mr. Ford should pause before wishing that Judge Hackland turfs him. Assuming he is not disqualified from running again, a judgment against him could conceivably make his re-election more likely than it looks now. Campaigning as a victim would suit him to a tee.
None of this is to absolve Mr. Ford. He brought all of this on himself – first by ignoring the city Integrity Commissioner’s repeated warnings and rulings about using his position as a city councillor to hit up donors, even lobbyists, for contributions to his football charity; then by speaking and voting on a matter that clearly stood to save him from the burden of returning the money.
It isn’t sympathy for Mr. Ford that should make us hope he keeps his job on Monday. It is concern for the effects on the city of seeing an elected, sitting mayor sacked by a judge. If anyone throws him through the saloon doors, it should be the voters at election time.