TORONTO – It is up to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to decide whether he should step aside and seek help after admitting he smoked crack cocaine, a visibly upset Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Thursday.
The longtime Ford family friend choked up when asked in Toronto about Ford’s shocking confession, which has made headlines around the globe.
His voice shaking, Flaherty took a long pause before answering, in what appeared to be an effort to hold back tears.
“I am close with the family,” said Flaherty, who served with the mayor’s father in the Ontario legislature.
“At the end of the day, he has to make his own decision about what he ought to do,” he added.
“Certainly his family is helping him and wishing him well. That’s all I can say.”
Ford is ignoring calls from even staunch allies to take a leave of absence in the wake of his admission that he smoked crack, likely in one of his “drunken stupors” about a year ago.
His stunning statement came after Toronto police said they had a video of the mayor, consistent with media reports of a video in which Ford appeared to be smoking crack and making racist and homophobic remarks.
Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have been urging Ford to step down and seek help.
Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong plans to table a non-binding motion asking Ford to take a temporary leave of absence. He said he’s amending it to say that if Ford refuses, council will ask the Ontario government “to pass legislation to have him removed.”
“If he can’t find the exit, then I think we have to show him the door,” Minnan-Wong said Thursday.
The situation is deteriorating and is only likely to get worse as more information comes to light, he said.
Municipal law makes no provision for the mayor’s forced removal from office unless he’s convicted and jailed for a criminal offence. The governing Liberals have said they have no plans to amend the law.
City hall has “tools at its disposal,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“I have confidence in city council and the police service and the judicial system,” she said. “So we need to let those processes unfold.”
Asked whether it would set a troubling precedent to have the province intervene, Minnan-Wong said: “I think we’re in a situation we’ve never seen before” and that calls for “extraordinary measures.”
Ford made an emotional apology to voters for his behaviour, but vowed to stay on as mayor and run for re-election next year.
“I have nothing left to hide,” he said Tuesday, just hours after his jaw-dropping confession to smoking crack.
But there may be more, possibly damaging, information about the mayor that could emerge.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Ian Nordheimer is expected to make a decision early next week on whether remaining portions of a document that revealed Ford’s ties and covert meetings with an alleged drug dealer can be released.
The police document was partially released last week as part of a pending drug case against Ford’s friend Alexander Lisi. It revealed that the target of the investigation was Ford and the video that allegedly shows him smoking crack cocaine.
It’s alleged the video “relates” to a home believed to be a “crack house” and police believe a notorious photo of Ford was also taken outside the home. The photo shows Ford posing with Anthony Smith, who was later shot and killed, and two alleged gang members who were subsequently charged as part of Project Traveller, a drugs and weapons investigation.
Media outlets have been arguing in court for access to a Project Traveller document similar to what was released in the Lisi case.
A ruling Tuesday from Nordheimer, who is also hearing that case, clears the way for media lawyers to argue for the release of wiretap information.
Police have said it was as part of Project Traveller that they came across a video of Ford consistent with media reports about him appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
That video is going to form part of a second court case for Lisi, who police have charged with extortion for alleged attempts to retrieve the video.
But police have also said they seized two videos during the Project Traveller investigation, though they remain tight lipped about the contents of the second file.
A lawyer for one of the men in the notorious photo with Ford says he’s going to court on Friday seeking copies of both videos. The mayor has also called for its release.
— with files from Paola Loriggio and Allison Jones.