Rob Ford is fond of boasting of his pro-business record, but there are signs the local and international business community is distancing itself from Toronto’s troubled mayor.
Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the city’s economic development committee, said he is hearing about “great concern” over the mayor’s “activities” among those interested in doing business with the city. Specifically, a potential deal between Toronto and Rio de Janeiro is in danger because of Mr. Ford’s behaviour, he said on Friday.
“I was told this morning that the mayor of Rio has no interest in pursuing any type of relationship with the City of Toronto given its current situation with the mayor of Toronto,” Mr. Thompson said.
The Scarborough councillor said staff is working to ensure the city does not lose the opportunity to strengthen trade ties with the South American city.
“There are great opportunities there for Toronto business, for economic development. A friendship relationship and arrangement would help us.”
Saul Taylor, spokesman for Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes, said he could not comment on Mr. Thompson’s assertion. Mr. Paes is the hugely popular mayor of a city that is working hard to stamp out a large crack-cocaine problem before it holds the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.
“There’s no doubt it is of great concern to us,” Mr. Thompson told The Globe and Mail. “We actually have a problem, because in Rio, they have a strong mayoral system, so if the mayor says he doesn’t want to do something, it doesn’t get done.”
He said he has a few ideas for mending fences, but nothing he is ready to announce.
Closer to home, Mr. Thompson said he would rather Mr. Ford did not continue as the city’s main ambassador to the business community. Mr. Ford picked a business crowd to deliver his first public address since he was stripped of most of his powers and staff by city council this week after he refused to take a leave.
“It creates a real problem,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that he would prefer Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly to take the role.
Mr. Thompson said city staff told him only about half of the people who indicated they would attend showed up for the speech at Casa Loma on Thursday.
City hall sources confirmed that Mr. Ford had agreed earlier in the week not to attend, but changed his mind, delivering a speech that a former staff member wrote before the mayor’s office budget was cut by 60 per cent and senior advisers opted to work for Mr. Kelly.