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Ontario Liberals steer clear of Rob Ford furor, but with options left open for intervention

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's Liberal government is trying to stay as far away as possible from the chaos enveloping Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, but the province has not closed the door entirely on intervening at some point.

While current laws do not allow the province or city council to force Mr. Ford, who admitted on Tuesday to smoking crack cocaine, to step aside or resign, the legislature could amend the City of Toronto Act to allow sanctions against the mayor.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has been briefed on the relevant laws, one government source said. Another suggested the province would take its cues from city council.

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Councillors have floated several ideas, including stripping Mr. Ford of specific powers or his office budget. It is not yet clear if they will ask the province to give them more authority to deal with the mayor.

For now, the plan is not to get involved.

Liberal insiders cited several reasons for this approach. Mr. Ford's popularity has remained strong after previous revelations, and the government is wary of upsetting his base by punishing him.

And having Mr. Ford in office does, in some ways, benefit the Liberals: one MPP acknowledged that the party appreciates the awkward position in which the scandal-prone mayor places the opposition Progressive Conservatives, the party with whom he is most closely identified and aligned.

"I think the sense of our caucus is that Rob Ford is the gift that keeps on giving to us," said the MPP, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The strategy is just to stay out of this."

The Premier did, however, express concern shortly after Mr. Ford's admission.

"What's happening at city hall makes it very difficult for the business of city hall to carry on in a normal way and that's my biggest concern as a citizen of this city and as the Premier," she said. "We want municipalities to be able to function and there is a huge amount of turmoil at city hall right now, and that's what's of concern."

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At a caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the Liberals did not discuss possible changes to the City of Toronto Act, or how they would respond to requests from council for them. Instead, sources said, Ms. Wynne delivered a message similar to the one she has offered publicly: expressing concern about the well-being of the mayor and the impact of his troubles on the city.

An official for Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said that changing the City of Toronto Act is not an option the government has yet considered. The official noted such a move would require time both to write the legislation and to try to get it passed. And the minority government would require help from at least one other party to do so.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak would not comment on Mr. Ford's situation.

He did, however, suggest that the mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, would still be welcome to run for the Tories in the next election.

"We'll see when the election happens and what Doug's intentions are," Mr. Hudak said as he left Question Period. "I've got nothing to say about the goings-on at city hall."

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said the province should not get involved in the situation.

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About the Authors
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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