TORONTO – Tensions between Toronto’s embattled mayor and city council spilled over to the public gallery Monday during a heated debate that spiralled into a shouting match and threatened to end in physical confrontation.
A face-off between Rob Ford, his brother Coun. Doug Ford and jeering spectators seemed close to blows as the mayor appeared to charge toward the crowd.
But it was a female councillor, not an onlooker, who was left with a bruised lip after the mayor accidentally knocked her off her feet.
Coun. Pam McConnell seemed rattled as she returned to her seat, and later said the hit took her by surprise.
“This is the seat of democracy, it’s not a football field. I just wasn’t ready. And fortunately, the mayor’s staff were in front and they stopped me from hitting my head against the wall,” she said later.
The mayor was asked to apologize and after some resistance, expressed his regrets to “anyone I accidentally hit,” saying he was rushing to his brother’s defence.
Tensions were high from the start as residents packed the council chamber for a special meeting to strip Ford of more of his powers.
Supporters and critics alike filled the seats, some spilling over into the media gallery already brimming with local and foreign media.
Cheers and taunts from the crowd drew sharp rebuke from the council speaker, but it wasn’t enough to contain the commotion once the mayor and Doug Ford began walking through the room.
The mayor’s bodyguard followed a step behind, filming on his cellphone while onlookers stood in their seats to shake the mayor’s hand or made rude gestures in his direction.
Calls for a break only incensed the crowd, and chants of “Shame!” rang out.
The Fords wasted no time in shouting back at their detractors — Doug Ford yelled at someone he repeatedly called a “punk” — plunging the council chamber into chaos.
Security tried to clear the public gallery, but the crowd settled down after McConnell was knocked over and the guards were called off.
Spectators were warned that any disruption would see them kicked out and a few resorted to waving their hands in the air to silently to show their approval.
Guards did, however, remove a man who called Doug Ford a bully.
The crowd stirred again as the mayor took the microphone in the minutes before the vote.
“This, folks, reminds me of when I was watching with my brother and Saddam attacked Kuwait and President Bush said, ‘I warn you, I warn you, I warn you, do not,'” he said.
“Well, folks, if you think American-style politics is nasty, you guys have just attacked Kuwait.”
The comments also got tongues wagging online, with “Kuwait” trending on Twitter after the mayor’s speech.