TORONTO – It’s a make-or-break day for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
A three-judge Divisional Court panel is set to release its decision this morning on Ford’s challenge of a lower court ruling that ordered him removed from office for a conflict of interest.
Ford’s lawyer had argued the mayor shouldn’t be found guilty because he was an honest politician who made a genuine error in judgment.
His opponents told court that Ford had deliberately flouted conflict-of-interest rules by taking part in a council vote that he repay $3,150 raised for his private football foundation.
If the ruling stands, the city would be tossed into unchartered territory, leaving it up to council to appoint an acting mayor for the balance of Ford’s term or call a byelection at an estimated cost of $7 million.
If he loses his appeal, Ford has said he would run in a byelection, if the city chooses to call one.
Ford has maintained he gained no financial benefit from fundraising for his private football foundation, and was only trying to help disadvantaged youth.
Lawyer John Mascarin said the conflict-of-interest law Ford was convicted of breaching makes it clear that the Divisional Court is the final avenue of appeal.
But he cautioned that an all-out try by Ford for a hearing before the country’s top court isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, though he said the odds are not good.
“It’s theoretically possible but in the 40 years that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act has been in place I’ve never seen a Divisional Court ruling appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Mascarin.
“It would look like the ruling would be the end of the line for Mr. Ford,” he said.
Ford said Thursday he has faith the Divisonal Court will keep him in office.
“I believe in the judicial system and I hope for the best,” he told reporters.
Some councillors say letting the voters pick the mayor — less than two years before the next scheduled municipal election — is the best route for the city to take if the expulsion ruling is upheld.
“I hope and I think that most of my colleagues would start from the point that the fairest and the most principled thing to do is to hold a byelection,” said Coun. Adam Vaughn, one of Ford’s fiercest critics.
Mascarin suggested that the relative speed of the Divisional Court ruling — arriving three weeks after the day-long appeal hearing — could mean that the judges have reached a unanimous decision.
“I’d be surprised if there’d be a dissent because of how quickly it came out,” he said.
Regardless of what the court rules, Marcarin said, the decision will serve as a sharp reminder to municipal politicians of their legal responsibility to keep personal matters far from the corridors of government.
“The long-term impact is that no one is above the law. You have to read the law. You have to understand what it says and you have to comply with it,” Mascarin said.
— With files from Maham Abedi.