Toronto city council has overwhelmingly voted to curb Mayor Rob Ford’s power and chop his budget by more than half, the latest in a string of drastic measures designed to rein in the city’s controversial leader.
Monday’s vote followed a tumultuous debate that saw Mr. Ford bolt across the council floor and accidentally topple Councillor Pam McConnell, part of a commotion that included a shouting match between the mayor and his brother and members of the public.
Council’s unprecedented action comes after weeks of turmoil and is aimed at restoring some order by shifting most of Mr. Ford’s authority to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who will now oversee the bulk of the mayor’s staff and office budget and chair the city’s executive committee. Mr. Kelly said he will meet with staff Tuesday to begin the work of restoring “faith in the government of Toronto.”
Later Mr. Ford told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that he is “finished” with drinking, after having a “come to Jesus moment.” Mr. Ford is also threatening the city with legal action.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office waded into the Rob Ford saga Monday, avoiding specifics but calling the recent “allegations” against the Toronto mayor “troubling,” and equating the mayor to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has admitted to using marijuana as an MP. Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives came out with a mixed message, with Leader Tim Hudak saying he would consider a provincial intervention if council needed it, while PC MPP Doug Holyday, the former deputy mayor, accused councillors of “beating up” Mr. Ford.
If there was any doubt that the mayor would continue to resist calls for him to step aside he quickly put that to rest, calling council’s actions a coup d’état and likening it to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein.
“If you think American-style politics is nasty, you guys have just attacked Kuwait,” a fired-up Mr. Ford told council. “Mark my words, friends, this is going to be outright war in the next election.”
While Mr. Ford talked war, councillors and the city’s newly empowered deputy mayor looked to restore some semblance of normalcy to city hall. “The mayor wants to wage war and I’d rather wage peace,” Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly said he plans to meet Tuesday with the mayor’s staff and members of the executive committee, and if he is willing, the mayor. “I am going to extend my hand out to him,” he said, acknowledging that with the mayor declaring war, “it’s an awkward introduction.”
Council’s actions, which passed 37-5, will leave the mayor with about 40 per cent of his budget, the rest put in the hands of the city clerk and administered by Mr. Kelly. The reduced budget will give the mayor enough for about eight staff, depending on their salaries, City Manager Joe Pennachetti told council.
How the mayor’s existing staff of 20 will be divided has not been decided, according to Mr. Ford’s chief of staff Earl Provost, who said Monday night he is still working for the mayor. “The mayor has to make some tough choices,” he said. “He wants to keep everybody. What happened today is unprecedented and we need to sort it out.”
Mr. Provost said he will be meeting with the city manager Tuesday.
Councillor John Filion, who put forward the motion to curb the mayor’s authority, said he was confident council made the right decision, even in the face of a possible legal fight. Still, he conceded the situation is far from ideal. “It couldn’t be worse,” he said. “[The mayor] is like a rampaging gorilla. As long as he’s in the room he’s going to disrupt the room and he’s not going to let us ignore him.”
Those who supported the mayor included his brother Councillor Doug Ford, as well as Councillors Frances Nunziata, Frank Di Giorgio, Vincent Crisanti and Anthony Perruzza. The mayor was advised that he should not vote on the item.
George Rust-D’Eye, an expert in municipal law hired by Mr. Ford, said he “would not be surprised” if his client takes legal steps against city council. “They have basically taken action that would prevent the mayor from doing his job,” he said.
The mayor’s other lawyer Dennis Morris, said legal action will be taken “in the very near future,” adding, “What happened today is driven by political agenda, for the most part. This was a public spanking.”
Prime Minister Harper in a statement from his office said, in part, “These latest allegations are troubling. Our Government does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office, including Justin Trudeau.”
After the meeting, the mayor, his brother, chief of staff and a handful of other staff went to the basement and talked by the mayor’s car before heading to his office to do the latest in a blitz of television interviews. The mayor refused to talk with reporters waiting in the council chamber and outside his office. That left his brother to speak to media. “This is a battle that we lost today. The war is not done. This is just the beginning,” he said.
The Etobicoke councillor said council’s actions were politically motivated and not due to his brother’s actions. He scoffed when asked whether the council move could have been avoided if the mayor had stepped aside.
With reports from Patrick White, Josh Wingrove and Adrian Morrow. Kaleigh Rogers is a freelance writer.