Mayor Rob Ford returns to work Monday afternoon after 60 days away from city hall.
While he has been at a Muskoka rehab facility, he hasn’t been forgotten, posing for pictures on his trips to town, talking to journalists on the phone and creating a commotion after his car was impounded when a woman who apparently borrowed it was charged with impaired driving.
Mr. Ford has been just a few hours away in cottage country, but he has missed some key political moments. Here are some highlights:
In late May, Toronto motorists woke up to traffic chaos in the city’s west end with lane restrictions on both the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. Candidates in the race for mayor were quick to point to the backups as evidence of dysfunction at city hall. When chunks of the Gardiner Expressway were falling, Rob Ford summoned staff to an emergency meeting and called a press conference. Not this time. City staff say the work on the Lakeshore was needed before the Pan Am Games and it was finished last week, well ahead of schedule and before the Mayor got to have his say.
Sony Centre scandal
Toronto’s Auditor General, investigating construction-cost overruns at the city-owned theatre, uncovered some unusual practices, including a $7,910 payment to the chief executive for holding his own wedding there. Sony Centre management defended the payment saying CEO Dan Brambilla used his nuptials to “beta test” the theatre’s food service. He also expensed meals he bought at the theatre, as “quality control.” Early in his term Mr. Ford used a similar audit of Toronto Community Housing Corp. to bolster his claims of gravy at city hall. He missed the chance to make the theatre’s spending an issue at the June council meeting.
Victory for provincial Liberals and a vacancy on council
Ford Nation was MIA during this spring’s election battle. Last year, the mayor and his brother knocked on doors in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, part of a push that gave the provincial PCs their long-awaited breakthrough in Toronto with the election of former Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. That beachhead was washed away by the Liberal tide, Mr. Holyday is out of a job and former councillor Peter Milczyn is going to Queen’s Park, leaving an empty seat to fill in Ward 5.
A budget surplus
City finance officials announced in mid-June that Toronto finished 2013 with a $168-million surplus, thanks in part to higher-than-expected revenue from the land transfer tax. In past years, the mayor has held a news conference to crow about the budget numbers, but this year they were released with no fanfare. His brother Doug Ford, a member of the city’s budget committee, suggested some of the surplus should be refunded to taxpayers. The idea, floated at budget committee, was quickly defeated by other committee members. The Etobicoke councillor, who is also the mayor’s campaign manager, said he did not know whether his brother will make such a rebate a plank in his campaign.
The race for mayor continued in Mr. Ford’s absence, even though his brother and campaign manager Doug Ford likes to say it will begin the day the mayor returns to town. There has been a steady string of debates and policy announcements over the past two months, with the mayor’s main rivals using the opportunity to set out their policies and get some face time with voters.
Mayor Ford has in the past said he cannot make it to the Pride Parade because he traditionally spends the Canada Day long weekend with family, although this year, because he is returning to work Monday that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is also one day after the parade. Other candidates in the mayoral race have been campaigning heavily at WorldPride events all week.