Unable to persuade Toronto's troubled mayor to leave office, councillors are taking unprecedented steps to peel away the office from Rob Ford by cutting his budget, staff and power – with some even refusing to call him by his title – all in an effort to control the damage they believe he is inflicting on the city.
The moves to limit Mr. Ford's powers will begin Friday when council meets for a special session and will continue next week. Details were privately mapped out Thursday by councillors during a council meeting where many turned their backs to Mr. Ford whenever he rose to talk. The plan took shape on a day marked by two more bombshell revelations by Mr. Ford – one that he might have driven after drinking, the other a rambling statement that included plans to sue former staff and the use of vulgar language in connection to a former female staff member.
The latest initiative, endorsed by 28 of the city's 44 councillors, will be debated at a special meeting Monday afternoon. If passed it would "delegate to the deputy mayor all powers and duties which are now by statute assigned to the mayor."
The mayor's notoriety at home and around the world grows by the day, with his admission of crack cocaine use, and the release of police interviews in which his staff describe bouts of heavy drinking and allegations, unproven in court, that he was abusive to his staff and consorted with suspected drug traffickers.
Also Thursday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne gathered reporters to make a statement on the crisis at city hall, calling the mayor's actions "truly disturbing" and raising the option of giving council new tools so the city can function.
But rather than call on the province, councillors have their own plan in the works.
"Let's put a firewall around the mayor," said Councillor Janet Davis. "He has no legitimacy here. Every time he speaks he embarrasses us even further."
Under the latest initiative, Mr. Ford would get the same office budget as a councillor. Although he could stay in his physical office, his staff would be offered the option of continuing to work for Mr. Ford or be part of a transfer of staff to be overseen by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. Mr. Kelly also would replace Mr. Ford as chair of the cabinet-like executive committee. As well, Mr. Ford will no longer have the right to cast a vote at any standing committee.
Mr. Ford refused to comment on the latest moves, but is consulting lawyers and plans to fight the latest council moves when they are considered Monday, a city hall source said.
Other options, which will be debated Friday, will take away the mayor's power to appoint and fire the chairs of the city's standing committees and the deputy mayor. They also would give the mayor's powers in an emergency to the deputy mayor.
Council currently does not have the power to remove Mr. Ford from office or force him to take a leave of absence. The limits it is considering would be temporary until the election next year.
Ms. Davis, a frequent critic of the mayor's policies, said she had chosen not to target his personal behaviour – until Thursday's events.
Her frustration was shared by colleagues who sit on Mr. Ford's executive.
"The concern is the mayor seems to be behaving erratically now," said Councillor Peter Milczyn, explaining efforts to protect staff in Mr. Ford's office. "I don't think it is fair to people who are trying to do their jobs to have them not know from one moment to another what somebody's going to do."
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti however accused council of a "left-wing coup" designed to unwind the mayor's fiscally conservative agenda.
The councillors' resolve to act was strengthened by Mr. Ford's behaviour when he arrived at city hall Thursday. Stepping off the elevator in a Toronto Argonauts football jersey, he defiantly vowed to sue former employees who detailed a litany of erratic behaviour to police and went on a sexually charged rant about a former female staff member, using vulgar language, including the word "pussy," which was broadcast live on national television. A few moments later, Mr. Ford confessed "I might have had some drinks and driven," before heading to the second day of this month's council meeting.
Reaction was swift, with Ms. Davis standing in council to express outrage at the "distasteful, hateful, misogynist" language used by the mayor. Mr. Ford defended his actions, explaining he was provoked by unfounded accusations. "Enough is enough, okay? So if you are offended, I'm not apologizing," he said.
By lunchtime the Argos football organization had issued a statement distancing itself from the mayor and expressing disappointment at the statements he made wearing their team jersey. Mr. Ford – no longer wearing the jersey and with his wife and lawyer at his side – delivered the latest in a string of apologies, this time for his "graphic remarks."
As the day wore on, several councillors said a leave from office was no longer enough. "We are way past that point," Councillor John Parker said. "We don't want him back whether he is sobered up or not. We just want him gone."
With reports from Kaleigh Rogers, Adrian Morrow and Jill Mahoney. Kaleigh Rogers is a freelance writer
TORONTO CITY COUNCILLORS' PROPOSED MOTION
That as a temporary measure until Nov. 30, 2014:
1. City Council delegate to the Deputy Mayor all powers and duties which are not by statute assigned to the Mayor.
2. City Council reallocate the operating budget of the Office of the Mayor as follows:
- a. The staff salary and office budget under the control of the Mayor be the same as that of a member of Council.
- b. The balance of the operating budget be reallocated to the City Clerk’s Office to be administered under the oversight of the Deputy Mayor.
3. City Council authorize that all existing members of the Mayor's staff be offered the opportunity to continue their employment either with the Mayor or as part of a transfer of staff to be overseen by the Deputy Mayor who shall assume responsibility for staffing, including hiring and firing.
4. City Council suspend the necessary rules and substitute new rules that give effect to the following:
- a. The Deputy Mayor is the chair of the Executive Committee.
- b. The Executive Committee elects a vice chair from among its own members.
- c. the Mayor is no longer a member of all Council committees by virtue of office, and does not enjoy the rights and privileges of other committee members when present at a committee meeting.