It's been barely 24 hours since Rob Ford's self-inflicted ouster and already the battle to replace him is under way. His supporters want a caretaker mayor appointed from the ranks of his like-minded colleagues on council. His opponents want a by-election. At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, it's his supporters who are right. A by-election is usually the best option, but in this case it risks adding to the uncertainty facing voters. It's time for Toronto's councillors to step up, the way the council did in Montreal when faced with a similar crisis this month.
Clearly, there is still much to be worked out. Mr. Ford has vowed to appeal the ruling that vacated his seat under Ontario's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The ruling takes effect in 13 days, so Mr. Ford will have to move fast or apply for a stay of the decision if he hopes to take advantage of the full 30-day appeal period. It's good news that he plans to appeal – the blunt instrument of a remedy in the law needs to be tested – but the delays will leave his fate unsettled and the city in limbo.
In that light, calling a by-election would only extend the chaos that Mr. Ford has bequeathed the city through his complete inability to respect simple rules and his over-developed sense of entitlement. The first thing that would have to be settled is whether Mr. Ford would be allowed to run; the ruling is unclear about that. Once everything is cleared up, Torontonians could wind up spending money to re-elect the mayor for a matter months; or worse, elect a new mayor only to have that vote thrown out were Mr. Ford to win a lengthy appeal process.
The better route is for councillors to start horse-trading now and come up with a plan for an interim mayor from their ranks. They could perhaps even go as far as to announce that a deal had been reached before Mr. Ford's fate is known, and thereby guarantee a smooth transition. The preferred candidate would be someone willing to work with all sides and see the council through to the 2014 election in state of relative harmony. This is what the highly politicized Montreal council managed to do in choosing Michael Applebaum, an anglophone, as its interim mayor after Gérald Tremblay resigned in disgrace on November 5. If Montreal can do it, so can Toronto.