Rob Ford scandal: How Toronto city council could strip his power

As embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's woes piled up — and his apologies continued — city councillors are seeking ways to rein in the chief magistrate.

Many tools in city council’s arsenal over the long term

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has refused to consider resigning or taking a leave of absence after admitting this week he has smoked crack cocaine. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

As embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's woes piled up — and his apologies continued — city councillors are seeking ways to rein in the chief magistrate.

The release of a new video, obtained by the Toronto Star, showing an inebriated Ford in an obscenity-laced rant added to calls for the mayor to step down or aside.

“You have a situation here where you have a council that’s very frustrated and a mayor who’s very resistant,” said municipal lawyer and former city councillor Ron Kanter.

The latest video, obtained by the Toronto Star, followed on the heels of Ford’s confession on Tuesday, after months of denial, that he had indeed smoked crack cocaine.

Toronto city council doesn’t have the power to force Ford out of office. There are no recall or impeachment rules here as there are in the United States. The mayor is only compelled to leave if he is both convicted and jailed for a criminal offence or alternately, if he doesn’t attend enough council meetings.

But city councillors have the ability to take drastic measures to strip away some of Ford’s powers — and have already begun to put some of these into motion.

No quick process

Possible actions include taking away the mayor’s ability to select his executive committee, reducing the mayor’s office budget, forcing a municipal election or requesting a judicial inquiry into the matter.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has opposed suggestions that the province should get involved. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

“They would all take time,” said Kanter. “There are no clear, quick legal processes to force the mayor to resign.”

Two councillors, John Filion and Paul Ainslie, already moved a motion, to be voted on in December, to remove the mayor’s power to appoint his executive committee, which sets the big policy decisions and agenda.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has opted to personally plead with the mayor, even as others took a more aggressive approach.

Citing a need for “extraordinary measures,” Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of Ford’s executive and an ally, vowed to ask council to pass a motion next week to ask the province to take action.

“We have told him that he needs to find the exit, he doesn’t seem to be listening,” said Minnan-Wong. “If he won’t find the exit I think that we have to show him the door.”

'Pretty draconian'

Wong’s drastic suggestion was met with resistance from the deputy mayor, who railed against involving the province. Premier Kathleen Wynne said city council motions were in process and she’d let that “roll out.”

I think we need to be able to get on with the issues that are coming down the road.- Former Toronto mayor Art Eggleton

“The province can step in, but it would be in my view an unwarranted interference with municipal jurisdiction,” said John Mascarin, a municipal lawyer with Toronto law firm Aird and Berlis.

If frustrated councillors are willing to give up their own seats, the City of Toronto Act provides another option.

The provincial minister of municipal affairs can dissolve the entire council if the city is unable to hold a meeting for 60 days because it fails to meet a quorum.

“That’s pretty draconian, because that would mean an election for everybody, not just the mayor,” said Kanter.

A more plausible option might be to use council’s ability to ask a judge to investigate a supposed breach of trust or other misconduct in respect to a city council member’s duties and obligations, said Kanter.

But that’s a lengthy process and the city of Toronto’s next election is slated for Oct. 27, 2014.

Recall law needed?

Some suggest the best route may be for councillors to send a symbolic message with a motion — and then move on and get the city back on track.

“The reputation of this city is taking quite a beating and I think we need to be able to get on with the issues that are coming down the road,” said Art Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor. “Not just the simple, everyday things.”

In the meantime, the Ford saga has raised questions about whether the municipal rules need to be revised.

Some have called for the introduction of recall legislation, where a petition with enough signatures can force a referendum to remove a politician from office before end of term. This legislation is common in U.S. politics, but not an option in Ontario.

B.C. is the only province with recall legislation, but Ontario MPP Randy Hillier introduced a bill last month to bring it to the province. Others caution against introducing such a costly removal process, which can be hijacked by special interest groups.

And Mascarin wonders whether the Ford scandal really warrants the change.

“The argument against [legislative changes] is wow, this situation is incredibly bizarre,” said Mascarin. “Do you think this is going to repeat itself?”


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