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Toronto Outgoing Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday honoured with key to the city

Rob Ford presents deputy mayor Doug Holyday with the key to the city.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford showered his departing deputy mayor with praise Tuesday as he presented Doug Holyday with a key to the city.

The mayor presented the honour to Mr. Holyday at a ceremony at city hall. The former Etobicoke councillor is to be sworn in as Progressive Conservative MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore on Thursday after winning a recent by-election.

Both Mr. Ford and Mr. Holyday made reference to the deputy mayor's role as spokesman when stories broke about the mayor: Mr. Ford called Mr. Holyday a faithful ally and thanked him for his service.

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"On a more personal note, as a long-time friend Doug has been an inspiration and a mentor of mine," Mr. Ford said. "As my deputy mayor, Doug stood beside me through thick and thin. Very, very few people would do that."

At the height of controversy when the Mayor first addressed reports of a video that allegedly showed him smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine, only Mr. Holyday and the mayor's brother Doug Ford stood at his side. Mr. Holyday has said the job of deputy mayor for Mr. Ford was unpredictable and he often had to answer reporters' questions when the mayor would not.

"Rob, it's certainly not been dull. It's been exciting and I wish you all the best as you go forward," Mr. Holyday said. His son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren were in attendance to see him receive the key, one of only three Mayor Ford has given out over his tenure. George Cohon, the founder of McDonald's Canada, and Canadian boxing great George Chuvalo got the other two.

The mayor also shared his thoughts on Toronto's interest in hosting an Expo. He and other councillors have made an appeal to the federal government to not withdraw from the world fair's organizing body, Bureau International des Expositions, until Toronto has had a chance to determine if it could potentially host the event.

"We've got to weigh the pros and cons and if it's going to create 1,000 jobs and stimulate our economy and bring in tourism, how can you not look at it?" he said.

After the ceremony and a reception that followed, reporters asked Mayor Ford about media reports from the weekend that police have interviewed former members of the mayor's staff about a man who sometimes drives the mayor, Alessandro Lisi, and attempts to locate the alleged crack video.

The mayor refused to comment when reporters asked if Mr. Lisi was a "great guy," as the mayor had told the Toronto Sun on the weekend, and whether Mr. Lisi was still driving him places.

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On Wednesday evening, the Mayor will host a community consultation meeting in Mr. Holyday's former Etobicoke ward to ask constituents if they would prefer a by-election or appointment to fill Mr. Holyday's seat on council.

The Mayor has called a special council meeting next Monday to declare the seat vacant and make a decision on how to fill it. A city clerk's report to be presented at the meeting includes a history of council's decisions on similar vacancies since amalgamation in 1998. Since then, nine council seats have been declared vacant. Council chose to hold a by-election twice and favoured an appointment seven times.

While appointments were more frequent, they only happened when the seat was declared vacant with less than a year until the next general election. Any time a seat was vacated with more than a year until the next election – as is the case with Mr. Holyday's seat – council opted for a by-election instead. In fact, council has a guideline that states any vacancy before Nov. 30 in the year prior to an election should be filled through by-election, rather than appointment.

The city could hold a by-election as early as Nov. 25. The mayor has been strongly in favour of a by-election, saying the ward needs elected representation, especially with important talks ahead like the 2014 budget.

"That's still a year. A lot of stuff gets done," he said on Sunday.

With the general municipal election on the horizon in October of 2014, many councillors across the political spectrum don't think the cost is worth the short stint in office, even with the special meeting expediting the process. The city clerk's report estimated a by-election would come with a $225,000 price tag and Mr. Holyday himself has said he prefers an appointment.

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