Ontario's municipal affairs minister said she is "saddened" by the "troubling" accusations surrounding Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – but that only a criminal conviction could induce the province to remove him from office.
"These allegations certainly are troubling and obviously they're under investigation right now," said Linda Jeffrey on Thursday, just minutes after Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced that his force had obtained a copy of a video that purportedly shows Mr. Ford smoking what appears to be crack cocaine. "I'm saddened to hear about those allegations."
Under provincial law, a mayor's or councillor's seat becomes vacant if he or she is either sentenced to jail time or misses too many council meetings. Mr. Ford has not been charged with any crimes.
Ms. Jeffrey was unusually forthcoming among provincial and federal politicians in the wake of the revelations that threw Toronto's city hall into disarray. Politicians of all stripes walked a fine line. Conservatives wanted to stay far away from the controversy swirling around the mayor without explicitly turning their back on an ideological ally. Liberals, meanwhile, were reluctant to intervene in the scandal, for fear they would be seen to be using the situation to kick an opponent.
"I don't want to talk about these things because it's for the justice system, for judges," Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday, when asked if Mr. Ford still had the legitimacy to govern. "It's for the police to deal with."
A spokesman for Attorney-General John Gerretsen said the office had not considered laying charges against Mr. Ford. "Only police can lay charges," the spokesman said.
Progressive Conservative MPP Doug Holyday, who left his job as Mr. Ford's deputy mayor last summer to join the legislature, conceded that press accounts of the video were true, despite the mayor's previous assertion the recording did not exist.
"I believe that the reporters did not lie. If they said they saw something, they saw it," he said as he left Question Period. "But how accurate or valid it is, I do not know."
Aides to Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak swiftly hustled Mr. Holyday away from reporters – at one point physically blocking television cameras – and the Tory Leader's office would not provide any comment on Mr. Ford.
For months, some party insiders have said they are afraid of being too closely associated with Mr. Ford. Mr. Hudak skipped Mr. Ford's barbecues this summer, and one source said it was unlikely the mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, would run provincially for the party, which he mused about doing earlier this year.
Others played down concerns that Mr. Ford's troubles would affect their party's fortunes. The mayor has "a brand that transcends all party lines," a senior official for Mr. Hudak said on Thursday. "This is seen as the Ford brand, as opposed to the Conservative brand."
The Harper government, meanwhile, has been careful not to indict its ally. In September, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty shared the stage with Mr. Ford as the federal government pledged $660-million for a subway extension in Scarborough.
Over the summer, Mr. Flaherty said he has had personal conversations with Mr. Ford, but would not say if he offered his friend advice on dealing with the controversy at city hall. The minister, the mayor and Doug Ford went on a personal weekend trip to Chicago in February.
"My discussions with him have been personal. They haven't been about infrastructure or anything like that," Mr. Flaherty said then.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Flaherty would not comment on the latest revelations. Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Mr. Harper, also refused to comment directly.
"We work with all levels of government on shared priorities that create jobs and growth. That includes working with. mayors and city councils, including the mayor of Toronto and Toronto city council," he said.
Toronto New Democrat MP Andrew Cash said Torontonians are "concerned" about their city's leadership.
"Let's remember that it was only a couple of short weeks ago that the Prime Minister stood with the mayor, despite allegations that had already been raised," Mr. Cash said. "It's been a rough week for Conservatives all around."
With reports from Ryan MacDonald and Gloria Galloway in Ottawa, Josh Wingrove in Calgary and Adam Radwanski in Toronto