Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is prepared to intervene in the chaos surrounding embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford if city council asks her to.
Ms. Wynne explicitly condemned Mr. Ford's conduct, which has included admissions he used crack cocaine and drove drunk, and an incident in which he used sexually charged language on live television.
"The things we are seeing and hearing about Mayor Rob Ford are truly disturbing," the Liberal Premier told a hastily called news conference outside her Queen's Park office Thursday afternoon. "If council were to clearly indicate that they lack the ability to function as a result of this matter, the province would respond to a request from council to be provided new tools, depending on what that request might be."
Council has voted to ask Mr. Ford to take a leave of absence, but cannot force him to do so and has no ability to remove him from office. The province, however, can change the law to grant councillors such powers.
Ms. Wynne said that, if council asked the province for more power to deal with the mayor, she would seek the support of Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democrat Andrea Horwath before taking action.
Mr. Hudak's office would not say whether he would work with Ms. Wynne on an intervention if council asked for one. PC sources said they were surprised by the Premier's statement and suggested they needed time to consider it. Mr. Hudak has previously called on Mr. Ford to "get help" for his personal problems.
Ms. Horwath, meanwhile, sounded cool to the idea of the province intervening but did not rule it out entirely.
"Like many people, I've been watching the problems at Toronto City Hall with concern. That said, I have faith in the people of Toronto and their elected City Council to deal with the challenges they're facing," she said in a statement. "I know that the municipal level of government must be treated with respect."
Sources in all three parties said the Liberals have not had any discussions with the PCs or NDP on what to do about Mr. Ford.
Ms. Wynne's Liberals have only a minority of seats in the legislature and would therefore need the help of at least one other party to pass legislation. Getting anything done swiftly would probably require the support of all three parties to fast-track changes.
Many Tory insiders want to see Mr. Ford go, and privately express frustration over his holding on to power. They argue that the circus at city hall is overshadowing their agenda at Queen's Park. Mr. Ford is often identified with the provincial party and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said earlier this year he would run for the PCs. But some Tory sources now say they do not want Doug Ford to run for the party.
Even as operatives from all three parties disparage the mayor in private, they have been hesitant to wade into the fray publicly.
Government sources say the Liberals have been afraid of setting a precedent by intervening at city hall. Doing so, they reason, could open the door to other cities asking the province to step in to resolve disputes at council.
Both the Liberals and Tories are also reluctant to anger Mr. Ford's base, which has stuck by him through previous controversies.
With a report from Adam Radwanski