One of Rob Ford's council allies is asking Ontario's government to take the drastic step of kicking the Toronto mayor out of office if he doesn't take a leave of absence. And the province is keeping the door open to this possibility.
The government does not want to intervene in the maelstrom surrounding city hall, for fear of setting a bad precedent by throwing out a democratically elected mayor. But Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey signalled that, if council asks the province to step in, she would examine its proposal and try to help the city through its troubles.
"I will evaluate anything they bring forward," she said Thursday. "The councillor that's considering this motion is considering what their mechanism is, and we'll obviously work with them. We want to make sure the City of Toronto functions properly."
That councillor, Denzil Minnan-Wong, submitted a motion for next week's council meeting calling on Mr. Ford to take a leave of absence in the wake of his admission that he smoked crack cocaine and drinks heavily. On Thursday, he said he will amend the measure to petition the province to step in if Mr. Ford refuses to go.
"The city's in troubled times. There's a crisis right now and we need to take action to resolve this matter," said Mr. Minnan-Wong, who sits on the mayor's cabinet-like executive committee. "Quite frankly, extraordinary measures are needed in extraordinary times."
Under current law, a mayor can only be removed for a criminal conviction or missing too many council meetings. But the provincial government has the power to re-write those laws.
Privately, Liberal sources say the government is trying hard not to get involved. They are wary of Mr. Ford's enduring popularity – even after drug allegations were first levelled at him this spring, his base of support held relatively steady.
As it now stands, two laws specify that the mayor sits for four years – the Municipal Elections Act and the City of Toronto Act. The province could pass a separate law that removes Mr. Ford from power, municipal law specialist John Mascarin says. Or those two laws could be changed to make specific reference to Mr. Ford.
City council may ultimately spare the province from having to make a difficult decision on whether to intervene. Mr. Minnan-Wong's motion would likely need a large majority for the province to pay attention, and some councillors quickly said they would not support it.
"This is major. This is almost constitutional in its importance," said Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. "As measured by budget, we're the sixth-largest government in Canada. We're not kids … I think we have the ability, the skills and the will to look after our own problems. I don't want to go to Mother Province."
Mr. Kelly pledged to instead ask the mayor to step aside "every day" if necessary. If that doesn't work, he said council can strip away much of Mr. Ford's power.
"He is marginalizing himself. He'll think he's in the game, but it will be flowing all around him," Mr. Kelly said.
Councillor James Pasternak said he still had to review Mr. Minnan-Wong's amendment, but wasn't keen on calling in Premier Kathleen Wynne.
"Moving in this direction to have Queen's Park come in and run the country's largest city is a very dangerous and risky precedent," he said. "There may be consequences for it in the years to come."
Ms. Wynne ducked a question on whether the province would intervene if city council asked for assistance. "We need to let those processes roll out and I have a lot of confidence in city council and in the police service and in the judicial system," she told reporters.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Mr. Ford should "get help" and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath urged him to "take care of himself."
With reports from Sean Fine, Jill Mahoney and Elizabeth Church