Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne indicated she’s willing to help Toronto out of its municipal quagmire as councilors prepared new measures to curb Mayor Rob Ford’s power after he admitted to taking drugs and excessive drinking.
Wynne said the province, which governs municipalities, would consider intervening if asked by Toronto city council, as the things she’s hearing about Ford are “truly disturbing.”
“If council were to clearly indicate that they lack the ability to function as a result of this matter, the province would respond to a request from council to be provided new tools,” Wynne told reporters yesterday.
Possible action by the province comes after Ford, 44, admitted he smoked crack cocaine, bought illegal drugs, and drove after drinking. Former staff members and others also allege in interviews with police that he guzzled vodka in his car, may have snorted cocaine and brought suspected prostitutes to his office, according to court documents released on Nov. 13.
Ford yesterday denied he snorted cocaine at a restaurant and said he “never had a prostitute” at city hall. None of the allegations in the document have been proven in court and police have said there isn’t enough evidence to warrant charges against the mayor. He has steadfastly refused to step down.
Council began a meeting today to try to limit Ford’s powers by voting on two motions at city hall. One would remove Ford’s power to appoint the heads of committees and the deputy mayor for the rest of his term. If the motion, tabled by Councilor John Filion, passes, committees would appoint their own heads and council would appoint the deputy mayor. Ford’s four-year term ends in a year.
Council may also vote on whether to take emergency management powers from Ford and pass them on to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.
Business at city hall has stalled amid raucous meetings broadcast around the world, while Ford’s antics have been lampooned on U.S. talk shows like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Saturday Night Live comedian Seth Meyers said on a U.S. talk show yesterday he was hoping Ford was still a story so he could provide him with material for this weekend.
“Every day he lowers the bar, and this is another one of those days,” Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former Ford supporter, said to reporters yesterday. “I’m very sad for the city and I’m exceedingly angry at the mayor. The mayor has got to go.”
Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti offered yesterday to organize an intervention to get Ford treatment.
“I have individuals that I know personally that will come down and they will take him immediately for a 30-day or a 90-day program,” Mammoliti said yesterday at city hall. “They will come today, but he has to say that he needs help. If he doesn’t admit that he needs help, then he’s lost me.”
Wynne said any actions the province would take would have to be passed unanimously by the provincial legislature because the “last thing this terrible situation needs is an overlay of partisan politics.” Wynne, whose Liberal party holds a minority in the legislature, didn’t specify what tools could be offered.
“The word ’tool’ was used because it is vague,” John Mascarin, a municipal lawyer and partner with Toronto firm Aird & Berlis LLP, said in an e-mail. “I don’t think the province has really thought of how it may force Ford out.”
The province has a few options, Mascarin said. These include introducing legislation to directly end the current mayoral term and call an election, or to amend municipal laws to give city council itself the power to determine when the mayor’s term ends and an election is to be held.
The province could also strip Ford’s mayoral powers as defined by the City of Toronto Act, including his role as chief executive officer of the city and leader of city council, Mascarin said.
Ford began his day yesterday denying he had prostitutes in his office or snorted cocaine at a restaurant and said he would pursue legal action against the former employees and waiter who made the statements to police.
Ford said one of the women named in the police documents who came back to his office after a St. Patrick’s Day party last year wasn’t a prostitute.
“She’s a friend, and it makes me sick how people are saying this,” Ford told reporters outside his office. “I’ve never had a prostitute here.”
He also denied saying he wanted to have oral sex with a staff member, who no longer works in his office.
“I would never do that, I’m happily married.” Ford said. “I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
Reporters present reacted with gasps to that statement and the mayor’s use of a slang term for a woman’s genitals. Ford later apologized for those remarks.
“For the past six months, I have been under tremendous, tremendous stress,” Ford said, with his wife Renata nearby. “The revelations yesterday of cocaine, escorts and prostitution has pushed me over the line and I used unforgivable language.”
The mayor said he’s receiving “support from a team of health-care professionals.”
“I am taking accountability,” he said, without elaborating.
Earlier, Ford said he may have driven a car after drinking.
“I might have had some drinks and driven, which is absolutely wrong,” he told reporters. “I’m not perfect, maybe you are, but I’m not.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jacqueline Thorpe in Toronto at firstname.lastname@example.org