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Marcus Gee: Appointed-mayor option forgets one tiny thing

Most of the recent chatter around City Hall has been about who will run in a by-election against Rob Ford if his removal from office is upheld by an appeal court. But what if it never comes to a by-election? What if city council simply appoints a mayor instead?

As it becomes clear how much a by-election would cost and how long it might take to organize, more councillors are leaning toward the appointment option. First reports were that it would cost $7-million, no small change, especially for a government that is struggling over every dollar as it tries to trim expenses. Now it looks as if it would be at least $9-million once the cost of rebates to campaign contributors is factored in.

As for timing, the longer it takes to hold a by-election the less attractive it becomes. Many councillors at first preferred a by-election because Mr. Ford's four-year term has nearly two years left, and it seemed wrong to have an unelected caretaker lead the city for such a stretch. If the caretaker period is shorter, appointment starts to look more attractive.

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A court will convene on Jan. 7 to hear the mayor's appeal on his conflict-of-interest case. Council must meet within 60 days of its ruling to decide on a course of action. If council decides to hold a by-election, it must also fix a nominating period of up to 60 days and a campaign period of 45 days.

Let's assume the appeal court decides promptly, given the urgency of the matter. Say a ruling comes down on Feb. 7, council meets on Feb. 21 and councillors set a hurry-up nominating period of one month. That takes us to March 21. Add a 45-day campaign and we are into May. That leaves 17 months until the next scheduled election on Oct. 27, 2014, and just seven months until the typical, drawn-out campaign for city elections gets under way in January, 2014.

"If the decision and the process is really dragged out, you become more reluctant" to call a by-election, says Councillor Josh Colle of Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence, who is still considering the options. "It's just going to drive us further into chaos around here, and divisiveness."

Political considerations are also leading some councillors to look harder at the appointment option. Opponents of the mayor say it would be foolish to give him a shot at coming back so soon through a by-election. Supporters of the mayor say council should simply appoint Mr. Ford to his old job, given the relatively minor nature of his conflict infraction. "The punishment seemed to be disproportionate to the crime," said Norm Kelly of Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt. "I think he should have learned his lesson."

The appointment talk has become so serious that one councillor, veteran Gloria Lindsay Luby of Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre, has kindly offered herself up for the job, saying she has all the right credentials. A more obvious choice would be deputy mayor Doug Holyday, a former mayor of Etobicoke and a conservative who could be counted on to push the Ford agenda.

There is just one problem with the appointment option: the little matter of democracy. If Mr. Ford's ouster is confirmed in the courts, voters should have a chance to render a judgment of their own. Was the offence grave enough that he should lose his job over it? Or does he deserve another chance?

Without a vote, it would be left to councillors, with all their grinding axes and political motives, to decide his fate. If you think a by-election would be messy, just wait till council gets down to hashing out who should be mayor.

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The appointed mayor who emerged from that process would have no mandate from the voters and consequently little power to enforce his or her will. Even elected mayors struggle to enact their policies in our party-free municipal election system.

Voters who like Mr. Ford – and there are still many, despite everything – would feel thwarted if council denied him the chance to run for his old job in a by-election. Those who dislike him might find it offensive to see council appoint Mr. Ford himself as mayor just after he was tossed out by the courts.

All this is academic, of course, if the appeal court overturns his expulsion. But if it doesn't, voters, not council, should have the ultimate call.

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