Could the City of Toronto run without a mayor?

The mayor of Canada's largest city has denied allegations over crack cocaine use, but there are plenty of questions about whether Rob Ford could be forced out of office, and what would happen if he does leave.

Municipal and legal experts provide insight

Toronto City Hall has become a media circus since allegations surfaced that Rob Ford was secretly videotaped smoking crack cocaine. The allegations have raised questions about whether Ford could be ousted from office, and what would happen in the aftermath. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

The mayor of Canada's largest city has denied allegations over crack cocaine use, but there are plenty of questions about whether Rob Ford could be forced out of office, and what would happen if he does leave.

The allegations have dogged Ford since the U.S. gossip site Gawker and the Toronto Star published stories saying their journalists had viewed a video they say appears to show Ford smoking the illegal street drug.

CBC News has not seen the video and has been unable to verify its contents.

Ford initially dismissed the allegations as "absolutely not true" and "ridiculous," but then said little else on the matter for a week, until Friday when he held a news conference and said: "I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine."

Ford did not take any questions before he left city hall.

The mayor's statement came an hour after his executive committee — a group of hand-picked councillors who serve as the his cabinet — urged him in an open letter to speak "openly and transparently" on the allegations.

Before the letter was made public Friday afternoon, committee members had said they were prepared to take over the mayor's duties if he stepped down. 

Hamutal Dotan, city hall commentator with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, said there’s no legal way for the 12 city councillors on the executive committee to take over the mayor's duties if he’s unable to carry them out for any reason.

"That’s a nice thought, but procedurally, there’s not a lot that can be done," Dotan said. "There is no mechanism in the city’s procedural bylaw to replace the mayor with any committee of people."

Even if the allegations against Ford were substantiated, municipal legal expert John Mascarin said he could remain mayor.

It’s "very difficult" to remove an elected official from office, Mascarin told CBC News. In some "very circumscribed instances," a judge can take that step, but normally only voters hold the power to remove an elected politician.

"Otherwise, he’s in there – and if he doesn’t want to resign, there’s nothing that council can do about it," Mascarin said.

If a Toronto mayor were to step down, city council would have to decide whether to appoint someone to fill the post until the next scheduled municipal election, or whether to call an election early.

Andrew Sancton, a professor of urban politics at London's Western University, said that Toronto's municipal government could more or less function even if the person holding the mayoral post "does nothing."

"There’s a speaker who presides over the council, and even if there wasn’t, someone else could do it in the mayor’s place," Sancton said by phone. "The bureaucracy would carry on doing its work.... Council would continue to meet. There’s no obstacle for the city to carry on."

With files from The Canadian Press