Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has no plans of addressing allegations that he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine Tuesday, the mayor's spokesperson said.
The mayor attended a city council meeting Tuesday morning to formally kill the proposal for a downtown casino, which ends for good what was once a pet project for Mr. Ford.
The meeting was the first time the beleaguered mayor faced his council colleagues since accusations he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine surfaced last week. During his statement in council, the mayor made no mention of the ongoing drug allegations. After the special meeting on a casino, Mr Ford's next official duty at city hall will be in a week's time when his executive committee is scheduled to meet.
These twin threads epitomize the state of Mr. Ford’s mayoralty: He has lost control of the political agenda while the circus that is his personal life overshadows everything else.
Mr. Ford and his camp laid low through the long weekend. The phone at his Etobicoke home rang unanswered and his family’s Muskoka-area cottage appeared dormant. His spokesman, George Christopoulos, did not respond to repeated calls, e-mails and text messages. Save for brief and vague denials by the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, there has been no substantial response to the allegations.
As Mr. Ford arrived at council, he faced a roomful of colleagues from all political stripes demanding an explanation.
“The whole situation begs for clarity, and I’m hoping the mayor will be forthright,” said Councillor John Parker. “Brushing off the allegations with a quick one-liner will not suit this situation.”
The mayor has rebounded from numerous previous problems – a DUI arrest in Florida in 1999, a time when he was photographed reading while driving on an expressway, a conflict-of-interest case that nearly saw him ejected from office – but the current allegations are by far the most sensational yet.
American gossip website Gawker and the Toronto Star both say they have seen a video, filmed by men who claim to have sold crack to Mr. Ford, but The Globe and Mail cannot verify its existence or contents.
The casino question is only the latest file the mayor has been unable to control. Downtown residents protested it and the mayor’s allies have found it an increasingly tough sell. It did not help his case when Premier Kathleen Wynne ordered that Toronto not be given a special deal on a casino revenue formula. As councillors lined up against the proposal, the mayor declared he would not support a casino unless it guaranteed $100-million in annual revenue for the city. The province’s new formula will deliver only $53.7-million.
After Mr. Ford cancelled Tuesday’s special meeting, councillors petitioned to revive it – a move Councillor Shelley Carroll insists “is not about sticking it to the mayor,” but rather putting council’s stance on a casino on the public record.
Councillors continue to call on Mr. Ford to respond fully to the personal allegations against him, but aside from moral suasion there is little they can do on Tuesday. Council rules stipulate that a special council meeting must stay narrowly focused on the item it was called to discuss.
“Under the rules of the special council meeting, no other business can be considered,” Councillor Gord Perks said. “Which I think is a good thing – since I believe council should be used to discuss the business of the city, not take personal swipes at each other.”
And even if the matter makes the agenda of a future council meeting, councillors do not have the power to eject the mayor from office over the matter. Municipal officials can lose their posts if they are incarcerated for an extended period of time and miss too many council meetings, or if they are convicted of breaking conflict-of-interest and anti-corruption rules. But there is no power for council to unilaterally turf the mayor and no provision that automatically dictates he or she resign if there are criminal proceedings. Asked Monday whether she was considering tightening the rules in light of Mr. Ford’s situation, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey would only reiterate the current rules, saying she would not comment on any specific case. In the meantime, the stream of questions from Torontonians about the mayor’s predicament has been “pretty steady,” said Councillor Paul Ainslie, who feels Mr. Ford has “got to confirm or deny the video” in no uncertain terms. Josh Matlow agrees the mayor must clear the air for the sake of the city’s reputation. “When I’ve been out in the community in the past couple days, this has been at top of mind for a lot of people,” he said. “Everyone that I speak with tells me that they’re embarrassed and they just can’t believe that this is the story that the world is talking about Toronto through.”
That it has come this far is exceptional in itself, and testament to the fact that Mr. Ford has been able to ride out so many previous controversies.
“What is on the table now is, again, the issue of the fitness to serve,” said Myer Siemiatycki, an expert in municipal politics at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “Over the last two and a half years, there were many times we’ve asked that – is this the time that punctures the mayor’s balloon? … This could be the one.”
With a report from James Bradshaw and Elizabeth Church