Rob Ford vows legal action after council votes to strip him of powers

The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford presses a button to vote "no" on a motion to strip him of responsibility at a special City Council meeting Nov 15, 2013 at City Hall. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

A subdued Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed to launch a court challenge after City Council limited some of his powers Friday in an unprecedented attempt to control the damage caused by the controversial chief magistrate.

At the end of an extraordinary week in which the scandal surrounding the embattled mayor widened further, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne urged Mr. Ford to do what city councillors tell him in the wake of calls from council to resign or take a leave of absence.

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"The Mayor needs to pay very close attention to the messages that he's getting from his councillors, and my hope is that he would take his lead from their advice," Ms. Wynne told reporters during a break from a meeting with fellow premiers in Toronto on Friday.

Later in the day, as hecklers shouted “resign” and “shame”, Mr. Ford said voters will decide his future.

“Councillors spoke today. The taxpayers of this great city will speak on October 27,” he said as he left his office to attend a regular afternoon council meeting.

Before city council voted almost unanimously on Friday to strip Mr. Ford of some of his powers, the mayor said he has hired veteran lawyer George Rust-D’Eye, an expert in municipal law, at his own expense while lamenting the cost to taxpayers related to council’s decision.

“This is going to be precedent-setting and if we move ahead with this, then obviously, if someone else steps out of line like I have, it’s going to affect councillors and the mayor I think for years to come,” Mr. Ford said. “I think if people were in my shoes, I think anyone would do what I have to do.”

The mayor also said, however, that he understands council’s will.

“If I would have had a mayor acting the way I’ve conducted myself, I would have done the exact same thing. I’m not mad at anybody. I take full responsibility.”

Councillors voted 39-3 to take away Mr. Ford’s ability to appoint and fire the chairs of the city’s standing committees, who sit on the mayor’s cabinet-like executive committee, as well as the deputy mayor. The move effectively freezes the executive committee as it now stands to prevent standing committee chairs from losing their seats at the whim of the mayor.

Councillors also voted 41-2 to delegate the mayor’s powers in an emergency situation to the deputy mayor. The move means that Mr. Ford will still be able to declare a state of emergency and end such a declaration, but he will no longer be involved in deciding how the city should deal with the situation.

Mr. Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford opposed both motions. Councillor David Shiner joined them on the first vote, saying later that only voters can remove the mayor’s power to chair the city’s standing committees, saying Mr. Ford has “done a reasonable job.” However, he supported the second move to remove Mr. Ford’s role in an emergency because of his “personal issues.”  

Other councillors said while they were glad the votes went forward without much resistance, they were saddened by the necessity of such an action.

“I think we sent a clear message. Number one: we’re unified, which is a really important message. We’re capable of functioning well. We are going to go about doing the work of the city and we can do that despite Mayor Ford’s misbehaviour,” said Councillor John Filion, who put forth the first motion.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who received more responsibility as a result of Friday’s votes, said it wasn't something he ever expected when he was appointed to the job, but he's prepared to accept the expanded role.

"I would hope that any person who occupies the position of deputy mayor would step up and do his or her duty," he said.  "I'll do my best."

But the deputy mayor was tight-lipped on his thoughts about Monday's vote, which would see the mayor's budget and staff cut, with the surplus passed on to the deputy mayor's office.

"It's a sad day. I don't think anybody is joyed as a result of the action that council had to take today," said Councillor Michael Thompson. "I do think that it became quite untenable for us to simply sit back in our chairs and supposedly do business as usual as though nothing has occurred."

Councillor Anthony Perruzza called the votes mostly “symbolic”, but said they will nonetheless help restore some order to City Hall.

“We have effectively, I think, stabilized the municipal government by taking away the mayor’s authority which we had given him,” he told reporters. “He continues to be the mayor; we continue to be the council. This provides a much more balanced form for us to be able to move forward and conduct the business of the city in a much calmer, tamer, more sober environment.”

Councillor Janet Davis said she was a quite surprised at the mayor's subdued reaction.

"He seemed to take it in stride as though it was just all in a day's business," she said.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who boycotted the votes, said councillors were “confused” and suggested Friday’s maneuvering was an attempt by the left-leaning councillors to seize power.

“Now they’ve gotten away with what they wanted to do today. Next week is another week,” he said.

On Monday, councillors will consider delegating to the deputy mayor “all powers and duties which are not by statute assigned to the mayor.” Under the initiative, Mr. Ford would get the same office budget as a councillor and his staff would be offered the option of continuing to work for him or being part of a staff transfer overseen by Mr. Kelly. As well, Mr. Kelly would replace Mr. Ford as chair of the cabinet-like executive committee, and Mr. Ford would no longer have the right to cast a vote at any standing committee.

Council currently does not have the power to remove Mr. Ford from office or force him to take a leave of absence. The limits it is considering would be temporary until the election next fall.

On Thursday, Ms. Wynne said she is ready to give council additional powers to deal with the Mayor if councillors ask for them.

In his latest jaw-dropping revelations, Mr. Ford said Thursday that he might have driven after drinking, planned to sue former staffers and used vulgar language about a former female aide. The bombshells come after Mr. Ford admitted last week that he had smoked crack cocaine in a drunken stupor.

Meanwhile, a new poll suggests that 70 per cent of Torontonians sided with Police Chief Bill Blair over Mr. Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford. Chief Blair was criticized for saying he was “disappointed” with Mr. Ford after revealing that police have retrieved a video apparently showing the mayor smoking crack cocaine.

However, the poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid for CTV News, CP24 and Newstalk 1010 Radio, found that 40 per cent of respondents approved of the mayor’s personal job performance – a significant bedrock of support given recent events. He also had the trust of 34 per cent of residents and he received a 30 per cent credibility rating.

The online poll surveyed 665 Torontonians between Nov. 8 and 12. It is considered accurate to within plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

With a report from Ann Hui

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