Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is vowing to continue with his conservative agenda at City Hall, now that a Divisional Court has rejected a removal order that would have tossed him from office.
Late Friday morning, Ford held a brief news conference in which he gave his reaction to the decision that reversed a pending removal that had been ordered by a Superior Court justice in a conflict-of-interest case.
Thanking his legal team, his family, as well as city residents for their support in recent weeks and months, Ford said he planned to get back to the job he set out to do when elected as mayor.
"I'd like to thank the thousands of people who offered their support and encouragement over the last few months. Your kind words have inspired me to continue fighting on," said Ford, who also indicated that he intends to seek an additional term as mayor in the next election.
"At every restaurant, at every gas station, the people of this city have given me phenomenal support and I truly, truly want to thank them for it."
Looking ahead to what he hopes to accomplish, Ford said he and his colleagues would "continue doing the work we were elected to do," including putting the city on a secure financial footing, improving customer service and developing a long-term strategy for transit.
While the mayor may be pleased with the court's decision, the conflict case may not yet be over.
Clayton Ruby, one of the lawyers representing a Toronto resident who last year brought forward an application that Ford had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, said he will take the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.
"We believe that there are serious errors of law in the judgment, and we will ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal to that court," Ruby said Friday in a statement.
"It must be acknowledged that such appeals are not easy, but this remains an important issue for all citizens."
The mayor’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, said there are opponents who are motivated to challenge the leadership at City Hall in any way that they can.
"You know, some of these folks, they won’t stop," he said during an interview with CBC News Network on Friday afternoon. "They can't accept the part of democracy that the people elected a mayor."
Conflict complaint raised last year
The conflict case relates to Toronto resident Paul Magder's complaint that Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act during a council vote last year. In November, a Superior Court judge ruled that the mayor should be removed from office and his seat declared vacant.
The Divisional Court ruled Friday, however, that a Superior Court judge "erred in finding" that the mayor had contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, according to the text of their decision.
The three-judge panel agreed with arguments made by Ford’s lawyers that council never had the power to compel the mayor to pay back donations made to his private football foundation several years ago.
Those donated funds were at the heart of the matter that council was discussing when Ford participated in a council vote last year that triggered the conflict complaint.
The funds were collected from lobbyists and corporate donors while Ford was still a councillor. In 2010, the integrity commissioner recommended that he should have to pay back the money, a recommendation that the then council adopted.
Months after the report to council, Ford was elected mayor. But the controversy surrounding the funds continued, with the integrity commissioner reporting to council in 2011 that Ford had not complied with her recommendations.
That led to an occasion in which a motion was moved to rescind council's original decision from two years earlier, which would mean that the mayor wouldn’t have to reimburse the $3,150 to the donors. Ford voted on this motion and spoke to a preceding motion that same day, both of which were part of Magder’s contention that the mayor had violated conflict-of-interest rules.
But the Divisional Court said Ford couldn’t have had a financial interest in the matter council was voting on last February, because council couldn’t compel him to pay that money. And that means that he could not have been in conflict.
No new mayor for Toronto
If the Divisional Court had upheld the removal order and Ford had lost his job Friday, councillors would have been forced to choose whether to hold a byelection or appoint a new mayor.
The court’s decision thus ends a distracting period at City Hall, which had left it unclear whether some councillors would soon have a chance to pursue a mayoral bid.
Doug Ford said what his brother has gone through has been a learning experience.
"There's one thing about this experience, you know who your friends are. You know who the political opportunists are."
Coun. Karen Stintz,who previously voiced support for a byelection if the mayor was ousted, said "the political instability will end" with the latest court decision.
Coun. Adam Vaughan said that while Ford won’t lose his job over the conflict-of-interest matter, he is not sure the experience has changed the mayor.
"I'm not sure you'll see a different Rob Ford. Perhaps he'll learn to take some advice from people," Vaughan said.