Toronto police Chief Bill Blair has asked the city’s mayor to get out from behind the wheel and accept a security detail, a day after Rob Ford was photographed reading while driving on a busy city thoroughfare.
“I’ve had some conversation with the mayor about the value of providing some security to him and some assistance, and I think there is value in having someone moving the mayor around. But that decision is entirely up to him,” Chief Blair said Wednesday. “I think some of the difficulties that have been encountered might have been averted had there been some staff there to support him.”
Those difficulties have included accusations Mr. Ford has talked on the phone while sitting in traffic, gave a small child the finger and cruised past open streetcar doors. But despite the backlash each incident has generated, the chief magistrate has repeatedly refused to employ a chauffeur.
Such a prospect is a tough sell for a mayor who built his brand on a reputation for frugality, especially at a time when his administration is asking police to rein in their budget. Assigning one officer to drive and protect Mr. Ford full time would cost at least the salary of an entry-level constable, $59,574 annually, not including overtime and benefits.
“He runs a tight ship here,” said Isaac Ransom, a spokesman for the mayor’s office. “It’s about ensuring that if a service doesn’t need to be billed to the taxpayer, it won’t be.”
The consequences of that penny-pinching have put police in the awkward position of explaining to the public why Mr. Ford has not faced charges when he’s landed in hot water.
Sergeant Tim Burrows, a former traffic officer who now specializes in social media, used the police Facebook page to do just that Tuesday, writing that it was not an offence simply to read a document – that there would have to be evidence the reading had led the driver to do something unsafe behind the wheel.
Sgt. Burrows concluded his note by entreating the mayor to hire a chauffeur: “It is obvious that you are busy enough to require one and no amount of money you are saving by not having one is worth the life of one of your citizens.”
That sentence was ordered scrubbed by Sgt. Burrows’ superiors, but the officer says his message would be the same no matter who was behind the wheel.
“It’s something that should be taken seriously – just because you can get away with it once or twice, you still have to know there are risks associated, there are lives,” he said.
Even Mr. Ford’s staunchest allies lined up to say a driver is a must. Budget chief Mike Del Grande said that council could simply vote to hire one so the mayor can save face.
“The knives are out to get him no matter what he does,” Mr. Del Grande said. “People are going to criticize him. It’s a no-win for him. It’s an absolute no-win for him. Rather than him saying yea or nay, I think council as a whole needs to say: ‘Mr. Mayor, we are going to give you a driver.’”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, meanwhile, suggested another option: Mr. Ford could have his aides drive him around, on top of their regular duties, to avoid hiring an extra person. Former mayor David Miller employed such an arrangement.
“He should rethink his own policy. And if he’s worried about backlash, I think … everybody understands that the mayor of one of the largest cities in North America needs a driver,” he said.
Driving has been at the centre of Mr. Ford’s mayoralty. He rode to power promising to end “the war on the car” and tried to stop a plan to build light-rail transit lines down the middle of suburban streets, arguing they would take space away from autos. And Myer Siemiatycki, a municipal politcs expert at Ryerson University, says the chief magistrate’s behaviour on the road reveals that his attachment to the activity may be about more than just politics.
“It suggests the mayor has a sense of freedom, invincibility, complete and total control that he has being behind the wheel,” he said. “He becomes master of the road and of his own vehicle.”