Rob Ford says he plans to vote on the police budget, brushing aside calls by councillors for him and his brother to stay out of the debate after they accused the police chief of having a personal vendetta against the mayor.
Discussion of police spending – the largest item in Toronto's fiscal plan – begins at City Hall Wednesday when the budget committee reviews the department's proposal for 2014. Chief Bill Blair is expected to attend, putting him in the same room as the mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who is vice-chair of the committee and has repeatedly demanded the chief's resignation, calling the drug probe involving the mayor politically motivated.
Debate over the police budget is raising new questions about the mayor's role as head of Toronto's government at a time when he is at odds with the head of its police force and is refusing to co-operate with it in an investigation. While councillors raised the issue Tuesday, they also said they are powerless to force the mayor and his brother to stay out of the debate.
"There is no way of keeping him out of it," Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly told reporters, calling recent comments by the mayor "regrettable" and "dead wrong."
The mayor for the first time this week made the link between the investigation and his efforts to cut police spending, suggesting in a television interview with Conrad Black that the probe was a result of Chief Blair's displeasure with the mayor's request for budget cuts.
The mayor – who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine and buying illegal drugs since taking office – said Tuesday he has no plans to stay out of discussions.
"I'll be voting on the police budget this year," he told reporters at a news conference where he renewed his pledge to cut the land transfer tax by 5 per cent.
While he did not directly comment on his accusations against the police chief, he thanked "frontline officers for the work they do" in his prepared statement.
Chief Blair has said the investigation involving the mayor is being conducted "without fear and without favour." A police spokesman refused Tuesday to comment on the mayor's remarks.
Councillor Michael Thompson, vice-chair of the police board, said given the "open animosity" of the mayor and his brother to the chief it would be best if they declared a conflict and not take part in this year's police budget discussions. After their remarks, "I don't understand how you can then say you are able to look at the police budget and deal with this particular issue in a fair and unbiased way," he said.
Mr. Thompson said the mayor owes Chief Blair an apology and took issue with suggestions by the mayor that he played an important role in police budget cuts.
Councillor Ford said there is no reason to step away from the debate. "I don't need to recuse myself of anything to do with the police," he said. "I support the police. We're going to move forward with a tight budget."
Budget chair Frank Di Giorgio, at the mayor's side for Tuesday's news conference, said as chair he will do his best to "make things civil" during Wednesday's meeting. Mr. Di Giorgio said he plans to introduce this week or next proposed changes to the land transfer tax that would create a general exemption of up to about $200,000 for all buyers and eliminate the breaks now given to those entering the market.
While he supports the mayor's efforts to cut the tax, Mr. Di Giorgio gives it little chance of passing at council in January. "I don't sense a real appetite to tamper with the land transfer tax," he said.
With a report from Ann Hui