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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford talks with his lawyer in chambers at City Hall on Nov. 18, 2013. (DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford talks with his lawyer in chambers at City Hall on Nov. 18, 2013. (DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Toronto council within its rights to curb Ford’s power, legal experts say Add to ...

As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford accused City Council of a “coup d’état,” and compared its actions to those of the late despot Saddam Hussein – “you guys have just attacked Kuwait” – a municipal legal specialist said council is acting within its legal rights and duties by drastically curtailing Mr. Ford’s office budget and staff.

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“Who sets the office budget” for the mayor? “Council does,” lawyer John Mascarin said. “Who allowed the mayor to appoint the executive committee? Council did. Who gives the mayor the power to appoint chairs [of committees]? Council.” A principle enshrined in law is that if you have the power to create a bylaw, you have the power to change it, he said. (On Friday, council removed Mr. Ford’s ability to name committee chairs and executive committee members.)

Robert Swayze, a municipal lawyer who serves as integrity commissioner for nine municipalities, including Mississauga, agreed that council can reduce a budget for the mayor that it established in the first place. “I don’t have any doubt about that. Whatever council has produced, it can take away.”

Mr. Mascarin said that, while the mayor has legal duties set out in the City of Toronto Act that he must be allowed to perform, so too does council – and it is wrong to look at one without also looking at the other. Section 131 says that council must represent the public and consider the well-being and interests of the city.

Council also made deputy mayor Norm Kelly the head of the executive committee, instead of Mr. Ford, which Mr. Mascarin said is legal. “The authority to appoint the executive committee was granted under the City of Toronto Act to council, which then gave the powers to the mayor. The council can repeal or revoke the authority.”

George Rust-D’Eye, a lawyer representing Mr. Ford, wrote a letter to City Council prior to Monday’s debate in which he used the phrase “coup d’état,” and said that council is trying to “publicly punish and humiliate” Mr. Ford for “personal conduct outside of Council chambers,” by taking away his powers and his resources, thereby indirectly accomplishing what it has no power to do directly – force him to resign.

Mr. Rust-D’Eye said that the proper avenue to deal with Mr. Ford would have been to complain to the city’s integrity commissioner that he violated the city’s code of conduct. “There are no reports or information before the council alleging that Mayor Ford has failed to comply with the responsibilities of his office, or that he has abused his powers in any way.”

Mr. Mascarin said the cuts of 60 per cent to the mayor’s staff of 20 and budget probably do not stop him from doing the duties set out in the City of Toronto Act. Those duties are described in broad, vague terms, such as providing leadership to council and representing the city at official functions.

He did not agree that a complaint to the integrity commissioner is the only route for challenging Mr. Ford, nor did he agree that the mayor was acting in a private capacity during episodes of drunken behaviour. “Do you divide the mayor’s role between public and private? He was representing the city at Taste of the Danforth and the Garrison Ball. He’s driving around meeting an accused drug dealer on city time. It seems to me the mayor has breached a number of things to do with city governance.”

On the issue of whether “indirect” moves to reduce Mr. Ford’s powers amount to taking away the mayoralty from him, Mr. Swayze did not think so, but said, “Anything is subject to judicial interpretation.”

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