It was an act of well-timed pathos that embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s first public appearance after being ordered out of office was to continue with a scheduled photo-op for the mayor’s annual Christmas Toy Drive, handing out toys to needy children at the City Hall daycare.
It was, after all, another charitable cause supporting needy children — the mayor’s beloved Rob Ford Football Foundation — that became the seeds of Ford’s political undoing.
In a 24-page ruling delivered Monday morning by fax, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T Hackland found that Ford had broken municipal conflict of interest laws when he solicited $3,150 in donations to his football charity from city lobbyists and their clients while he was still a councilor, had repeatedly refused to repay the money despite an order from the city’s Integrity Commissioner — and later insisted on casting a vote in council clearing himself of wrongdoing.
Far from a simple error in judgment, Judge Hackland ruled that Ford’s conduct amounted to “a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude,” toward his fellow councilors and the law.
“In my opinion,” the judge wrote, Ford’s “actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness.”
Just hours after the bombshell ruling ordering him to clear out his office in the next two weeks, Ford seemed to remain in a state of willful blindness, heading down to the foyer at City Hall in business-as-usual fashion for his Christmas press conference to polite, if perplexed, applause from the gathering crowd.
Minutes earlier, he had dismissed the decision as political maneuvring by his left-wing opponents and vowed to keep his job, court judgment or no court judgment.
“The left wing wants me out of here and they’ll do anything in their power,” he said. “I’m going to fight tooth and nail to hold onto that job and if they do, for some reason get me out, I’ll be running right back at them.”
Whether he does get to keep his job, however, is not exactly up to Ford. The soon-to-be-ex mayor says he plans to appeal the decision in the next 30 days and ask for the judgment against him to be “stayed,” or suspended, allowing him to stay on as mayor until his appeal can be heard.
If an appellate court rejects his request, city council can appoint an interim mayor or call a byelection. If it’s a byelection, Ford pledged that his name will be “the first on the ballot.”
Ford’s opponents, both legal and political, did their best to contain their glee at having successfully removed the controversial mayor from office. “While we’re pleased to have won this case, we’re also saddened by it,” said Clayton Ruby, the high-profile civil rights lawyer who took the lawsuit on pro bono on behalf of Toronto resident named Paul Magder. “It is tragic that the elected mayor of a great city should bring himself to this. I use that language advisedly: Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford.”
While Ford foes took to Twitter to cheer the ruling, within the corridors of City Hall councilors seemed shocked that a court had actually turfed a duly elected mayor over a few thousands dollars worth of sports equipment that, according to Ford, ended up not in his own pocket, but in the hands of underprivileged children.
“I just thought that there might be some consequences for the mayor but I didn’t think it would be this,” a visibly shaken Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said.
“All he had to do was pay back the money,” added Councillor Paula Fletcher. “When he chose not to do that, he chose a different path.”
Councillor Adam Vaughan, one of Ford’s most outspoken critics and long thought to be planning his own run at the mayor’s office, said the mayor-less council now had the task of leading the city away from the fractured partisan politics that defined Ford’s tenure.
“What I know is that we’ve been dealt this situation as a result of [Ford’s] behaviour and as a finding of the judge,” Vaughan said. “I’m not sure the city has got what it deserved, but it’s now incumbent upon us who have been elected to move this city forward, with or without Rob Ford on council in the mayor’s chair.”
While Ford’s political future may be in doubt, his high-school football prospects seem much more assured. Ford will be busy as usual on Tuesday night coaching his Don Bosco Eagles against the Huron Heights Warriors for the Metro Bowl, local high school football’s version of the Super Bowl.
Indeed, Ford’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, urged the mayor’s fans to come to the playoff as a way of showing their support. “This is a man that cares, a man that is the most honest politician I have ever seen in this country,” Doug Ford said. “You want to support Rob? Come to the [game] tomorrow.” If only winning a football championship were enough to save the day.