Putting his conflict-of-interest battle behind him, Mayor Rob Ford looked to the rest of his term – and then some – by promising six more years of fighting for Toronto taxpayers.
Invigorated by the outpouring of public support he said he received as the case wound its way through the courts, he pledged to pursue his cost-cutting agenda.
“It is very humbling to know how many people out there supported me and support their city,” a subdued Mr. Ford told reporters Friday morning, a couple hours after hearing the Ontario Divisional Court had overturned a ruling that would have removed him from office. “At every restaurant, at every gas station, the people of this city have given me phenomenal support.”
The court case – and the prospect of a snap by-election or struggle among councillors to appoint a mayor – has kept the city on tenterhooks. The expectation that Mr. Ford could be ousted was a constant distraction, even during heated budget debates earlier this month. Friday’s ruling brought Mr. Ford back from the brink, with many of his council colleagues characterizing it as an opportunity for everyone to turn the page. With a number of major issues looming – including a decision on a downtown casino, how to finance public transit, and the key appointment of a new budget committee chair – several councillors said it is time to focus on city business, rather than the “sideshow” that Mr. Ford’s legal saga and other missteps have become.
Others noted Mr. Ford is not out of the woods just yet. An audit into his 2010 campaign finances is expected next week, a document that could once again jeopardize Mr. Ford’s leadership.
Mr. Ford, for his part, took the court ruling – and public reaction from “thousands” who showed him their support – as an endorsement of his leadership and agenda. “I campaigned on stopping the waste at city hall. There is still a lot of waste down here that we have to streamline and we are going to carry on,” he said when asked if he planned to change his own behaviour.
“It is my plan to keep fighting for the great people of this city for the next six years,” he said.
Deputy mayor Doug Holyday, who was poised to step in for Mr. Ford if the ruling went the other way, said he and others in the mayor’s camp are planning a “serious meeting” in the coming days to chart a course forward.
“We are going to sit down and I’m hoping to give him a few thoughts that I have on how we could go into the future with trying to avoid these types of interruptions,” Mr. Holyday said. In their first meeting after the ruling, Mr. Holyday said along with his congratulations he, again, gave the mayor the advice to hire a driver.
Mr. Holyday estimated the cost of the legal battle to be at more than $100,000 and said he hoped the price tag would deter others from dragging the mayor into the courts.
Lawyer Clayton Ruby, who led the charge against Mayor Ford, said he will ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal, leaving the door open to yet another court battle.
The conflict-of-interest case centred on a vote in February of last year by Mr. Ford to let himself off the hook for failing to repay $3,150 in improper donations to the Rob Ford Football Foundation, which provides football equipment for underprivileged high schools. An earlier investigation by the city’s integrity commissioner found the donations had come from lobbyists and a corporation doing business with the city and recommended Mr. Ford be asked to repay the money himself. Council agreed, voting to impose the penalty in August 2010, a few months before Mr. Ford swept to the city’s top job.
In its ruling Friday, the court said it allowed the appeal because city council did not have the authority to impose a financial penalty on the mayor. It said the initial ruling was flawed because “it required Mr. Ford to reimburse funds which he never received personally.”
Listening to the mayor’s comments after the ruling, Councillor John Filion expressed concern Mr. Ford will take the decision as a green light to move his agenda further to the right and heighten the divisions among councillors. “No matter how this turned out, it was going to be a mess at council,” he said. “We just have to figure out how to ride out the next year and a half and not look like we’re perpetually engaged in bun fights and that we’re actually trying to get some business done.”
Speaker Frances Nunziata, a loyal supporter of Mr. Ford, said there is no reason for him to change his ways. “I expect the mayor to be the mayor and in my opinion, he has done a great job,” she said.
That was a view shared by those at shops in Etobicoke on Friday near the high school where Mr. Ford coaches football.
Steve Maciag dismissed criticism of the mayor’s behaviour. “It cost a lot of money to take him to court. And for what? Nothing,” he said. “It’s not like he did anything wrong. It’s not like he pocketed the money. He gave it to kids for football. Big deal.”
With a report from Oliver Moore