Throwing a net over Mayor Rob Ford

The mayor might soon have nothing left but his title, proving city council has more power than anyone thought

The attack on Rob Ford is over-the-top

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Back in 2006, a powerful mayor sounded like a good thing. Canadian cities had become population magnets, yet lacked the political clout necessary to determine their own destinies. Nowhere was this more true than in Toronto.

The mayor of the day, David Miller, was a passionate advocate for cities. He treated his position as something akin to that of a provincial premier, and that’s not a knock: Miller knew that, for cities to be masters of their own houses, their leaders required the influence to drive an agenda. Many councillors agreed. Four years before Rob Ford was elected, they handed to the mayor appointment powers over the chairs of standing committees that do much of the work of governing the city. Those chairs also sit on the executive committee, which is Toronto’s equivalent of a cabinet.

On Friday, with Rob Ford’s crack-booze-profanity-harassment scandal in full flight, council voted overwhelmingly to take those powers back. It was one of the few measures at their disposal to neutralize the mayor, whose behaviour had shattered his colleagues’ confidence in his capacity to lead.

They also took away Ford’s authority to wield special powers during a emergencies (remember Snow Day 1999?), placing them instead with the deputy mayor. These powers will return to the mayor’s office after the next election.

In a moment of candour on Friday, Ford admitted in the chamber that he understood councillors’ desire to clip his wings. “If I had a mayor acting the way I’ve conducted myself, I’d have done exactly the same thing,” he said. Still, he’s going to fight the move in court, he said, arguing it’s a dangerous precedent: “If someone else steps out of line like I have, this is going to affect councillors and the mayor for years to come.”

Perhaps. But if another mayor steps out of line like he has, Toronto might have to crawl into Lake Ontario and die.

The question now is whether he’ll get anywhere in court. Ford’s case will be based on an opinion provided by George Rust-D’Eye, a former city solicitor and a kind of dean of municipal law in Ontario. In a memo, Rust-D’Eye argued that council is obliged to act based on facts “relevant to the merits of the question before it” and “not make such decisions on the basis of speculation, or extraneous or irrelevant allegations.” Moreover, he wrote:

..there is no evidence before the council suggesting that the mayor has failed to exercise, or abused, his powers, or been unwilling or unable to fulfill them, or forming any other grounds having a relationship to those which led this and previous councils to establish existing standards and procedures.

As such, says Rust-D’Eye, Friday’s motion could be viewed as punishment for Ford’s “alleged personal misconduct,” or else a desperate bid by council to look like it’s doing something—anything—about the international public-relations inferno the city has fallen into.

It could. Or it could be that council—itself a body of duly elected representatives—doesn’t have to explain this action to any judge. While working on a story on this motion last week, I spoke with John Mascarin, a municipal law expert with the Toronto firm Aird & Berlis. Council, he assured me, is perfectly within its right to withdraw the powers that it extended to the mayor’s office.

More complicated, Mascarin added, would be any attempt to claw back the budget granted the mayor to fund his activities: “He is, in name, still the mayor. There may be some statutory duties for which he’ll need funding.”

Maybe Mascarin had been reading Rob Ford’s mail. On Monday, council is scheduled to debate a motion that will see most of the operating budget of the Office of the Mayor reallocated; his staff members would be given the option of jumping ship for jobs under Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. “The staff salary and office budget under the control of the Mayor [would] be the same as that of a member of Council,” reads the motion.

If the vote passes, Ford would no longer be chair of the executive committee. He would enjoy no more privilege on standing committees than any other city councillor. Really, he’d have nothing left of his former position but the nameplate on the door.

That fate, you can be assured, would get him before a judge sooner rather than later. But it makes you think: maybe Toronto city council isn’t quite as helpless as we thought.


Throwing a net over Mayor Rob Ford

  1. They can ignore him all they want….legally he’s still mayor.

    • That may be, but city councils have the right (by their vote) to define what the powers of a mayor are. They have exercised that right, and it is not a meaningless one.

      • That belief and a toonie will get you a coffee.

    • you can’t honestly – in good conscience – defend the man

      • Why not? The city’s still running, and in fact running better than when Miller was mayor.

        The fact is knocks against Ford are 100% completely personal.

        • Oh Rick, you’re in a drunken stupor. Go home……and eat.

        • he does?????? please illuminate…Ford spends about the same as Miller… while causing a million problems that never existed before

        • “The fact is knocks against Ford are 100% completely personal.”

          Duh! I wonder why?

      • I’ve never defended the ‘man’….I’ve called him white trash….but we can’t just toss mayors and senators when it suits us.

        • if he were any other public or even private employee, he would have been fired with cause weeks if not months ago… his lardship wanted to fire a worker who was photoed with his head down… a much less culpable offense than coming to work drunk, not to mention all of the mayor’s other transgressions…

          • But he’s not an employee…he’s an elected official.

          • Sorry, that’s as bad as Harper’s logic. Ford can’t be
            fired’ but his powers can be restricted according to the law.

        • Not tossing him – restricting his powers which, according to the Municipal law expert quoted above the council is legally entitled to do. There is no comparison to the Senate situation that I can see.

        • If we (the electorate), “can’t just toss Mayors and Senators when it suits us”, what in your mind would constitute grounds to fire a miserably failed politician who has absolutely abused our trust and whom has arrogantly flaunted the laws that any decent public official would use as a guide-line for everything they do in public office or private life? Why are citizens continuing to lower-the-bar in aid of a self-confessed morally bankrupt low-life of such appallingly poor judgement including criminal behaviour? Rob Ford should be immediately and unceremoniously removed from office by Provincial Government and the Police should lay charges based on Rob Ford’s own admission of criminal activity. Have we no shame or standards left?

          • The ‘electorate’ aren’t doing it…..they have nothing to say about it…..that’s my point.

            Council is doing this….and they have no authority to toss out a mayor they don’t like.

            The province has no way to remove him either….there is no mechanism to do so. We never thought we’d need one, so it doesn’t exist. And even if they did so, Toronto would be screaming at the ‘interference’….so it’s a vicious circle.

            The way things are set up at the moment…..an election is the only way to remove him….and the election is a year away.

          • I disagree. As a member of the electorate I have been demanding that my councillor do something about this sad state of affairs. Depending on what my councillor does may affect how I vote the next time, so don’t tell me I don’t have a say in all this.

          • Council has no authority to remove an elected mayor. So what voters have to say is irrelevant.

            I’m sure some voters are complaining….they may also be supporting Ford.

        • I agree with you until his personal problems came up we never heard about a poor job he was doing!

          • Well Rob Ford is upper middle-class [same as Justin]…. he behaves the way he does by choice…. it gets him votes.

            It may be a caricature of the working class….Ralph Kramden Today…kind of thing, but it works.

            I don’t like the crude boorish behaviour image….but then I don’t live in Toronto.

            However not liking his manners is no reason to remove him. We’re not supposed to have mob rule in this country…even if it’s a PC mob.

    • Doubling down, eh? Do you ever read the articles before you vomit over the comments section?

      • The Ciao….refers to all your posts.

        Go do your homework.

        • Too much fun mocking the glaring mistakes in your self-important posts.

          And you think someone who chose their avatar based on the original pilot of Star Trek has homework to do? Come on, put some thought into your insults.

    • Yes, legally he’s still mayor, but the point is that legally the mayor has very few statutory powers in our system of municipal government in Toronto. Frankly, Council’s been largely ignoring the mayor for over a year now, and things have continued to get done.

      The only really big change, imho, was the removal of the mayor’s emergency powers, and frankly, Council created those powers in the first place, so having them fall on the office of the Deputy mayor isn’t really that big of a deal. If they’d wanted to, Council could have simply eliminated the emergency powers all together, and we would have just gone back to the system we had in place for the decades and decades of Toronto’s existence prior to the Council creating the emergency powers.

      • When an emergency occurs in a city, the mayor represents the city.

        Whether council passes motions or not.


        • He can get in front of the cameras, but he’ll have no emergency powers. Period — also known as the time of the month that His Honour does not eat at home.

        • Sure, no one’s saying that the mayor can’t “represent the city” if there’s an emergency, but he’ll have no more power to actually DO things then mayors had before Council created the emergency powers that they previously assigned to the mayor.

          If City Council were as powerless as you imply, then the whole conversation would be moot, as they wouldn’t have had the power in the first place to give the mayor the emergency powers that they just took away.

          Consider this analogy. If Parliament had repealed the War Measures Act a week before Trudeau invoked it during the FLQ crisis, would your argument be that Trudeau nonetheless still had the power to invoke the repealed Act because “He’s still legally Prime Minister”?

          • Ford will have the same power as mayor as every other mayor in the province does during an emergency.

            Now stop trying to mansplain’ it to me and think quietly for awhile.

          • That’s right: he will have the same power the office of mayor had before the council granted the office additional powers. Poor Lord Kitchener, he didn’t know he was trying to have an adult conversation with Emily.

          • You’re going to have to cite some Municipal law at this point to contradict the expert quoted above. The ‘because I said so’ is really not going to do it.

          • I love it how Emily listens to you and doesn’t back talk you Jan. You must have some really good stuff on her/him.

          • Apparently I`m a hacked account…

          • Well, whatever works….

          • Hacked by Con male chauvinists, which is why I show up as a progressive woman. If you`re confused, join the club. :-)

          • Ford will have the same power as mayor as every other mayor in the province does during an emergency.

            There, we agree. Where we seem to be at variance is that you don’t seem to realize that every mayor in the province has virtually no emergency powers whatsoever.

          • LOL now you’re quibbling over the amount of power.

            In an emergency a mayor has all the power s/he needs. This would be the meaning of the word ’emergency’.

          • In an emergency a mayor has all the power s/he needs.

            Are you perhaps confusing our Mayor with Batman?

          • Why yes, LKO…and all your other favourites, Superman, Spiderman…

          • You’re putting Superman and Spiderman in the same category as BATMAN?!?!?

            Now you’re just talking crazy talk!

        • In reality, the province would step in, as they did in Alberta.

        • “… the mayor represents the city.” Or doesn’t as the case may be. Such as Rob Ford, during this summer’s flood, sitting in his SUV, in his driveway, running the air conditioning, rather than assisting with any emergency management at city hall.

          • You can sit anywhere to authorize something.

  2. “There is no evidence before the council suggesting that the mayor has failed to exercise, or abused, his powers, or been unwilling or unable to fulfill them …”

    Seriously? Do they not have access to television or radio over at George Rust D’Eye Law Offices? The mayor’s behaviour before and during council yesterday and then in the hallway in front of media two times afterwards seem to be enough to go on, never mind the litany of apologies he has made for his own behaviour. A legal opinion is one thing, but ignoring the facts as provided by his own client as Exhibit A is another.

    • The mayor also has established through his behavior that he has a fairly serious substance abuse problem that has impacted his judgment on more than one occasion. He has shown no insight in so far as he has not expressed recognition that he has a substance abuse problem that requires treatment. People who are addicted to substances have a tendency to act in ways that are unpredictable and volatile, behaviors which Mr. Ford has exhibited on several occasions. Given Mr. Ford’s past behaviors, the council is wise to limit his powers until he agrees to get real help.

      • He has the same powers as any other mayor in the province.

          • I’ve said this about ten times now. Mayors have a vote…same as any other council member. They don’t usually bother unless they need to break a tie. But there is no party system, no majority system in Ontario.

          • There are times when the lack of a party system in municipal politics doesn’t really effect much. Heck, I heard that Toronto’s City Council once held a vote that went 41-2.

  3. But the Dude really does abide …

  4. Charlie – for future reference…
    “Perhaps. But if another mayor steps out of line like he has, Toronto…”
    ‘Like’ is a preposition. You mean “steps out of line as he has”…

    • Pedantic. Stupid is like stupid does.

  5. San Fran has crime buster, BatKid, Toronto has chair buster, FatKid.

    • Batkid is the only one who can save us.

      • Batkid makes my heart sing. I love that entire story, all the people who made it happen, and how excited Batkid himself was. All kinds of amazing.

    • Rob Ford! Rob Ford! Why is he running (again), dad?

      Because we have to defeat him in the next election. He’s not the Mayor that Toronto deserves… and he’s not the Mayor that Toronto needs right now… but he’s the Mayor that Toronto is stuck with.

      He’s a locked-door drinker. An obedient self-promoter. A Blank Pawn.

      [final shot of tinted-window SUV lurching erratically into the night]

  6. That would have to be an awfully big net. Isn’t it better to use a harpoon?

  7. Dear Toronto,
    It has come to my attention that an unprecedented calamity has stricken your polite and friendly shores. You are understandably wondering if there is light at the end of the tunnel, and all I can say is: it’s up to you. Yeah, IT’S UP TO YOU, since you were probably under the influence of something other than pasteurized milk when you voted this mess in.

    Now that that your handpicked leader is accused of several of the seven deadly sins and that I almost feel compelled to create one or two more to fully capture the Mess of Turpitude and Deceit That You Call a Mayor, I can only hope you will do the honorable thing and support your councilors and(or) Ontario provincial politicians in either chuting or hazzmatting the toxic, stinking, egomaniac results of your political incompetence.

    There are two kinds of tragedies in this here world : those that happen to us and those we bring on ourselves. When I read the papers in the morning and see that 10,000 innocent dead Filipinos play second bananas to a 400 pound overfed, cracked-out, drunk and grandiosely delusional millionaire you had the brilliant idea of electing, I get a little angry at you, Toronto.

    Do the right thing.

    (or at least I think that’s what he said to me in a dream last night)

    • @ Aero Gramm; Your supposition assumes that the citizens of Toronto actually knew the “real” Rob Ford when they voted for him. The reality is that they had no idea of what an embarrassing, personally-troubled and morally bankrupt individual he is and while they know it now, they elected Ford in good faith. For you to blame the electorate for failing to look into your clouded crystal-ball is patently unfair and also a shallow-simplification which you have penned in a rude angry sounding tone. Your last point has also fallen short because If you didn’t like the order of priority that the media chose-to-air world events versus local news, the electorate has nothing to do with any news-room decisions either. If you need a target, instead of trashing the voters and their collective electoral decision, aim at the real cause of the problem – Mayor Rob Ford.

  8. This seems fundamentally wrong (and reminds me of basket-case democracies like Venezuela), that a council can grant new powers or remove them depending on who happens to be sitting in the mayor’s chair.

  9. Doug is the worst brother and City Councillor.

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