The decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland to remove Mayor Rob Ford from office in 14 days has thrown city hall into turmoil.
The decision has left councillors unclear as to how the city will be governed over the coming weeks and months, and already led to splinters in the mayor’s inner circle.
Ford, meanwhile, has made it clear he will be appealing the decision, which could prevent him from running for office until the 2014 election, and blamed the decision on a left-wing conspiracy to remove him from office.
“This has come down to left wing politics,” Ford told reporters Monday, Nov. 26, morning, just over an hour after the decision was released.
“They’re going to do anything to get me out and I’m going to fight tooth and nail to hold onto my job. And if they do for some reason get me out, I’ll be running back at them in a byelection.”
Ford said he would definitely be launching an appeal of the decision by Hackland, over charges brought against him that he had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
At issue was a decision by Ford to speak on his own behalf as council was considering a report from the city’s integrity commissioner.
The report recommended that council compel Ford to repay $3,150 that he had accepted from lobbyists for his football charity. Ford had as a councillor solicited those funds using his councillor’s letterhead, which was a violation of council’s code of conduct.
Ford had repeatedly refused to repay the money, and when it came to council, he begged councillors not to compel him to do so now. That, according to the Hackland decision, was a violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which requires politicians refrain from speaking or voting on matters in which they have a financial interest.
Hackland rejected arguments made by Ford’s defence, suggesting he had made an error in judgement on the matter — one of the few acceptable mitigating factors in COI violations.
“In the view of the respondent’s leadership role in ensuring integrity in municipal government, it is difficult to accept an error in judgement defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the Integrity Commissioner and the Code of Conduct,” wrote Hackland. “In my opinion, the respondent’s actions were characterized by an ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness.”
Clayton Ruby, the lawyer who prosecuted the case for citizen Paul Magder, said at a news conference he and his client were pleased with the victory but saddened by the situation.
“While we were pleased to have won this case we’re also saddened by it,” he said.
“It is tragic that the elected mayor of a great city should bring himself to this. And I use this language advisedly. Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could have so easily been avoided. It could have been avoided if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense, and he had played by the rules.”
The decision sent shock waves around city hall.
Ford faced the media a second time, surrounded by a small cadre of supporters from his executive committee, including deputy mayor Doug Holyday, budget chief Mike Del Grande, as well as the mayor’s brother, city councillor Doug Ford and speaker Frances Nunziata.
But many members of his executive weren’t present, including public works and infrastructure chair Denzil Minnan-Wong, who later told reporters he had appointments related to his task, and Giorgio Mammoliti, who later told the media he would be leaving the executive committee in light of the court ruling.
“My constituents have had a huge role to play in how I do my job over the last 23 years,” said Mammoliti.
“We listen to them every election. And we have been getting calls all day, and talking to my advisors, they think I should step down from the executive committee. They want me to be myself in making decisions at this critical time.”
Mammoliti made a name for himself as one of Ford’s most vociferous and at times most controversial supporters. During council meetings, he would famously hold his thumb up or down depending on how Ford’s supporter’s should vote, and he made headlines suggesting opponents of the mayor’s agenda were in fact communists.
Mammoliti said he would continue to vote with the “administration” on fiscal matters, and would support Mayor Ford.
“I can still be loyal outside of executive,” said Mammoliti. “I was with Mel Lastman and I was with Miller. I can work with anyone, really. With this ruling there’s going to be some key decisions made on the council floor and I would rather do it as me.”
One of those decisions will be what to do about replacing Ford – and when to deal with that matter.
The decision gives the mayor 14 days in office from Monday, to allow the city to deal with administrative matters resulting from his exit.
And it prevents him from running for office in the current term. However, it is unclear whether the term is to be defined as the regular four-year term ending in 2014, or the mayor’s term, which will end when the office is declared vacant.
If Ford is successful in having an appeal heard, he will likely request a further stay of the removal from office. If that happens, then it will be difficult to determine when council can in fact act.
When that happens, councillors will have to decide whether they want to hold a byelection with two years remaining in the four year term, or appoint a caretaker mayor to run the remainder of the term.
Councillors who spoke with Toronto Community News generally favoured a byelection, but if the matter drags on, might also support an appointment.
Complicating matters further are the positions of councillors who have made it clear they’re interested in seeking the mayoralty in 2014: do they run in the interim?
Adam Vaughan, who has been openly considering a run, wouldn’t address the matter when questioned by reporters.
“I’ve got a conversation that needs to be had with residents and businesses in my ward – I have to talk to my colleagues,” he said.
“A snap election would be a snap decision. Until we stop and think about this and understand where the court cases may be going, what Rob Ford’s next steps might be and advice from the city solicitor. We need to take this very carefully. This is a very serious situation. My work and the job of other city councillors need to make sure the city’s led and led effectively.”