Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has said sorry for the first time for the council-floor speech that led a judge to conclude he should be fired.
“Looking back, maybe I could have expressed myself in a different way,” Mr. Ford said. “To everyone who believes I should have done this differently, I sincerely apologize.”
Mr. Ford made his qualified apology as part of a brief statement to the media about why he and his lawyer filed a formal appeal and a request for a stay of the decision Tuesday.
The mayor said that while he “respects” the Ontario Superior Court’s decision, he did not believe he had a conflict of interest when he spoke and voted at council Feb. 7 to free himself from personally repaying more than $3,000 in improper donations to his football charity.
“I was focused on raising money for underprivileged youth. I never believed there was a conflict of interest because I had nothing to gain and the city had nothing to lose,” he said.
Mr. Ford's bid to keep his job temporarily while he appeals his case will be heard by a court on Dec. 5, according to the mayor's lawyer and his press secretary.
News of the crucial court date came as the city's top lawyer concluded that if Mr. Ford loses his appeal he would be banned from running for office again until the 2014 general election.
Anna Kinastowski, the city solicitor, told council Tuesday that an Ontario Superior Court decision ordering Mr. Ford out of office would also bar him from standing in a by-election if council decides to call one for 2013.
Mr. Justice Charles Hackland, who ruled Monday that Mr. Ford violated a conflict-of-interest law, wrote that his decision did not disqualify the mayor beyond the end of the “current term.”
Legal experts interviewed Monday differed on the definition of the word. The mayor’s own lawyer, Alan Lenczner, said it meant Mr. Ford would be free to run again almost immediately.
But Ms. Kinastowski has a different view -- one that carries special weight because of her role as head of the city's legal department.
“It is my opinion that that word, term, means 2010 to 2014. That is our interpretation of that particular fact,” she said. “If down the road there is a by-election and Mr. Ford does not agree with our interpretation, he can certainly take action to get a judicial interpretation at that time.”
The city’s most senior lawyer was asked to provide some clarification after a stunning court decision Monday ordered Mr. Ford out of his job for violating the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act, a provincial statute that carries a mandatory penalty of removal from office.
The judge suspended the punishment for 14 days, meaning Mr. Ford remains mayor of Toronto until at least Dec. 10. After Mr. Ford’s application for a stay is heard Dec. 5, the appeal hearing itself will begin Jan. 7 before a three-judge panel of the Divisional Court.
Ms. Kinastowski said she would find it “unusual” for the courts to deny Mr. Ford a stay under the circumstances.
If the stay is granted, Toronto's municipal government would be left in a state of suspended animation for months as the city waited for the results of Mr. Ford’s appeal.
“If there is no stay, or if down the road, Justice Hackland’s decision is not overturned, then council is required to take certain actions. But it’s not until then,” Ms. Kinastowski said. “So that’s down the road and council will have plenty of time to think about it.”
One of the mayor's former allies called Tuesday for the mayor to step aside temporarily and let Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday take over while the appeal is heard.
"The city of Toronto is bigger than any personality or anybody and we should be thinking about the city of Toronto," Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said.
Mr. Mammoliti announced Monday that he was quitting the mayor's executive.
There was a surreal atmosphere inside Toronto council chambers Tuesday as the mayor and his colleagues proceeded with the mundane business of a regularly scheduled meeting.
Mr. Ford, his voice hoarse, presented 25 years-of-service awards to three councillors, including Mr. Holyday.
In between sips out of his Tim Horton’s takeout cup, Mr. Ford rose to ask for a recorded vote on a report that showed renovations to the skating rink outside city hall have gone $750,000 over budget.
If past behaviour is any guide, the mayor wanted council’s minutes to reflect that he opposed spending the money. Another councillor held the item, postponing the vote.
Council then dealt with the thorny issue of committee appointments for the second half of Mr. Ford’s original term. The most controversial of those appointments – naming budget chief Mike Del Grande to the police board – squeaked by in a tie vote.
Mr. Ford’s office had pushed to put Mr. Del Grande on the police oversight body to hammer home the administration’s desire to rein in the police budget.
At lunch, Mr. Ford, dressed in an Argos jersey and jacket, appeared on stage at a rally to celebrate Toronto’s Grey Cup victory, where he was greeted with scattered boos.
In a gravelly voice, the mayor bellowed: “Argooooooooos” and read a proclamation. One of the players, defensive lineman Adriano Belli, smooched the mayor on the cheek.
Later Tuesday, Mr. Ford is expected to leave council to coach his high-school football team, the Don Bosco Eagles, in the Metro Bowl at the Rogers Centre, the same stadium where the Argos won the Grey Cup Sunday.