The news out of city hall is that Rob Ford will be able to run in a by-election to get his job back even if an appeal court confirms his removal from office. Good. Whatever you think of the mayor and his conflict-of-interest case, it would be unfortunate to see him ejected from office on a judge's ruling alone. This way voters will be the ones to pass final judgment on the mayor at the ballot box. That is as it should be.
Mr. Ford was elected in 2010 with 47 per cent of the vote. He is only halfway through his four-year term. Even Ford opponents such as Councillor Joe Mihevc think it would be best to have Mr. Ford voted out. "I have felt that Rob Ford, at the end of the day, came in as an elected official and should ultimately leave as an elected official," Mr. Mihevc said.
A judge's decision clarifying that Mr. Ford is eligible to run in a by-election sets up a complicated timeline for the coming months. The first date is next Wednesday, when Mr. Ford's lawyers will go to court to seek a stay of the original order ousting him from office. If he gets that stay, an appeal court is expected to hear his appeal in January. If he wins at appeal, he keeps his job. If he loses, he is out. City council must then decide whether to appoint a caretaker mayor or to hold a by-election.
Most councillors seem to think that a by-election is the way to go, given that there is nearly two years until the next scheduled vote on Oct. 27, 2014. We already know that Mr. Ford would run. Indeed, we already know what he would run on. Judged by what he and his advisers have been saying, he will argue that it is wrong to oust an elected mayor over a technical infraction of conflict rules when all he was trying to do was help underprivileged youth through his football charity. "This is Canada. We decide who represents us," says a campaign-style video backing Mr. Ford on the website respectdemocracy.ca. His "politically motivated" removal is "unfair, undemocratic and unacceptable."
He will also argue that removing him threatens to halt the progress he has been making on taming the city's budget and bringing a more businesslike approach to city government. His opponents, according to his advisers, only want to stop him from stopping the gravy train.
This sets up what could be an epic political battle, probably sometime this spring. Several people have indicated they might consider a run for the city's top job, including federal MP Olivia Chow and downtown councillor Adam Vaughan. A Chow-Ford showdown would be the most polarized in memory, pitting a left-leaning former city councillor and widow of NDP Leader Jack Layton against a right-wing populist.
A big question is whether a challenger on the right would enter the field. Councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Karen Stintz have both said they would not rule out running in a by-election, but that was before it became clear that Mr. Ford himself could run. The risk if they don't run is that Ms. Chow would beat Mr. Ford – opinion polls give her an edge – setting up a return to power of the city's left.
Whoever is in the contest, a denial of Mr. Ford's appeal in January would probably mean that Toronto voters would vote for mayor twice in the next couple of years: once in spring 2013 and again in fall 2014. Give Rob Ford one thing. He has made city politics worth watching.