There is a sense of relief, even liberation, at Toronto City Hall as a demoted Rob Ford loses his grip and life returns to a strange kind of normal. You can get a feel for it by climbing the stairs from the lobby to the second floor and hanging around outside "the fishbowl."
This now-famous suite of glassed-in offices was the mayor's turf before city council stripped him of most of his staff and budget this week. Now a new sign reads "Deputy Mayor/City Clerk's Office." Inside, staffers freed from Mr. Ford to work for the new sheriff, deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, move framed paintings from office to office and carry boxes of office supplies as they settle into rearranged digs.
No longer grim and furtive, some even emerge from time to time to chat with the media camped outside.
One of them makes a show of dropping her bottle of Pepto-Bismol in the trash. The mayor's former chief of staff, Earl Provost, looks as if, well, a 1,000-pound weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
On Thursday, workers enter the fishbowl to take away the industrial-sized scale that Mr. Ford used for his failed weight-loss campaign, the Cut the Waist Challenge. It felt like the ceremonial felling of some ousted despot's statue – only sillier.
A little earlier in the day, Mr. Kelly stopped to talk to reporters. Gone was pushing, shoving and shouting that used to break out when the media tried, desperately and usually in vain, to get something out of Mr. Ford. In what is being called the New Norm, Mr. Kelly is setting a fresh tone for life under the clamshell. He was all twinkly-eyed geniality as he took questions – and answered them. Instead of ramming into a TV camera, he playfully nabbed one of them, put it on his shoulder and made as if to record the media.
It is all so calm and civilized. The round of earnest committee meetings that is everyday life at City Hall has resumed.
"It's sort of boring," said TTC chair and mayoral hopeful Karen Stintz, flashing a delighted smile as she enters a session on amendments to the city's Official Plan.
But of course, there is a cloud in the sky of this new dawn. Mr. Ford is still mayor. Even with many of his powers stripped away and most of his staff taken, he retains the title and some of the privileges of the job – among them giving speeches, which he did with obvious relish at Casa Loma on Thursday night.
He wore his official chain of office to the castle, as if to say: Take my staff if you like, but I'm still the chief. He has made it clear he doesn't intend to fade away or become a lifeless figurehead. Thursday's speech, in which he lashed out at the new administration for considering a tax increase greater than he promised, sounded like the beginning of a guerrilla campaign to hold onto power.
The role of angry outsider suits him well. Freed from the humdrum process of governing – something that never seemed to interest him that much – he can do what he likes best: answer calls from constituents and rail against the gravy train. On Friday morning, reported Councillor Paul Ainslie, Mr. Ford was doing the rounds in Scarborough with city staff, helping show residents how disconnect their downspouts from the sewer system.
Toronto is left in a weird sort of limbo. Dad has taken the keys to the car from Mr. Ford, but he still has his licence.
Mr. Kelly, a former history teacher, compares it to life in ancient Rome after the fall of kings, when power was held simultaneously by two consuls. "If they can make it work then we should be able to do it, too."
But troubling questions remain – like who gets the fish? In the old days, an actual aquarium stood in a corner of the fishbowl. By Friday morning, it had been moved, along with the scale, to the reception room of the mayor's office. Mr. Ford may have lost many of his powers to govern, but he still has the guppies.