Toronto city council voted to strip Mayor Rob Ford of his ability to make political appointments and manage the city during an emergency after he refused to resign amid revelations of illegal drug use and binge drinking.
The council voted 39-3 to remove Ford’s powers to appoint committee heads and the deputy mayor. A second motion transfered his power to oversee the group that manages the city during an emergency to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. That motion passed 41-2, with only the mayor and his brother Doug Ford voting against it.
The council doesn’t have the ability to force the mayor out of his seat, and he has rebuffed repeated calls to step down after admitting to smoking crack cocaine, buying illegal drugs, being “hammered” at a public event and saying he may have driven after drinking.
“I completely understand where my colleagues are coming from,” Ford said during debate on the second motion. “If I would have had a mayor acting the way I have been conducting myself, I would have done the exact same thing.”
Ford challenged the legality of the council’s moves and said he had hired George Rust-D’Eye, a specialist in municipal law, to represent him.
“I can’t support this,” Ford told the council before the first vote. “I have no other options but to challenge this in court.”
The mayor has a statutory duty to lead the council that can’t be taken away directly or indirectly by a vote from councilors, Rust-D’Eye said today in a telephone interview.
“The motions in effect are to punish him for extracurricular activities, things he does in his personal life, which don’t seem to in any way contravene or be inconsistent with what he’s supposed to be doing as a mayor,” Rust-D’Eye said.
Ford’s brother also questioned whether the council had the right to take powers from a democratically elected mayor.
“We’re setting a precedent for sure,” Doug Ford said during the council meeting. “330,000 people didn’t vote for the deputy mayor.”
Councilor John Filion, who put forward the first motion, said he’s “not at all” worried about the mayor’s possible court challenge.
“We have the authority to do everything we did,” Filion said after the votes in an interview broadcast on CP24 television.
While Rust-D’Eye may present arguable grounds, the council will ultimately be able to take away some of Ford’s powers, said John Mascarin, a municipal lawyer and partner at Toronto firm Aid & Berlis LLP.
“These weren’t statutory powers, they were powers council either gave him or could change,” Mascarin said today by phone.
The council is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 18 to vote on a third motion, which would transfer the bulk of Ford’s budget and staff to the deputy mayor.
Five of six people interviewed on the streets of the western Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, the heart of “Ford Nation,” said today they continue to support the mayor.
“Give the guy a chance, get off his back, and let him get it done,” said Ricardo Araujo, a 42-year-old machinist who voted for Ford and said he will choose him again. “He’s not perfect, he’s not polished, but he does get things done.”
“As my representative for Toronto, it’s a little embarrassing,” said Tom Raso, 40, who works in the clothing manufacturing business. “But as far as politics are concerned, I felt that he delivered.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said yesterday the province, which governs municipalities, would only intervene in Toronto politics if the council “were to clearly indicate that they lack the ability to function.”
Today she said she saw the city motions as proof that council can do its job.
“They’re determined to find a way to make city council work,” Wynne told reporters at a hotel in downtown Toronto.
The province’s options include introducing legislation to directly end the current mayoral term and call an election, or to amend municipal laws to give the city council itself the power to determine when the mayor’s term ends and an election is to be held, Mascarin said.
It’s unlikely the province will intervene, Mascarin said. “She set the standards pretty high.”