As I write this, it looks as though I’ll be greeting Mayor Rob Ford’s return from his paid leave of absence Monday afternoon in the hallway outside his office.
There, I’ll be joined by reporters from Now Magazine, Canadian Press, the Torontoist and who knows how many other interested journalists – who the mayor’s office has chosen to exclude from attending Rob Ford’s speech to Torontonians.
The mayor’s office has given a reason for the exclusion but not a motive. The event is being held in the mayor’s Protocol Lounge, an awkwardly-shaped room that has been rated by Toronto’s fire chief to hold no more than 24 people at a time.
That rating occurred after a dangerous incident following Mayor Ford’s news conference with his wife Renata, to apologize for some awful remarks he’d made earlier in a scrum.
Then, the mayor had charged out of the room through a dense crowd of reporters and television camera operators. The City Hall Press Gallery suggested the space was unsafe for a Rob Ford news conference, and city staff agreed. And for a time, the mayor stopped holding availabilities in his office, and moved to more suitable venues elsewhere in city hall.
So having selected this space, the mayor’s office has had need to limit attendance, and has done so.
So that’s the why. The motive?
One might make an educated guess.
Mayor Ford returns to Toronto City Hall with many questions unanswered. What in fact was he smoking in the pipe that he was waving around in the April video taken in his sister’s basement? What does he have to say about taped conversations in which he appeared to boast about his racism and homophobia? About his carnal thoughts about mayoral candidate Karen Stintz? About his and his brother’s reported intervention on behalf of companies that might have had a business relationship with the family label printing company?
The list goes on. The mayor has indicated through his brother Doug that he won’t answer any questions today. But that is not to say that journalists attending the event won’t ask them anyway.
Controlling the number of journalists there – and excluding some that don’t suit the mayor’s agenda – is one way to limit those questions if not entirely eliminate them.
Because the ban is only of limited effect, the only other motive one might guess at would be a simple show of strength.
The mayor doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to do this. He returns to his office, and one or two of his statutory powers, but after weight loss and rehab, he is still rendered largely impotent at city hall.
Councillors won’t even meet with him, let alone follow his lead. He no longer chairs his executive committee. His office budget is miniscule compared to the needs of a fully-functioning mayor, and Norm Kelly, his deputy mayor, is the true source of leadership on council.
Mayor Ford does, however, have control of who he speaks with, and who he allows into his office – the same as does any city councillor. And really, at this point Mayor Ford has little left to lose by exercising that control, excluding those he chooses to and holding the rest on a short choke chain.
It’s a way to feel more in control, after having a long time where control was elusive. It’s a way for the mayor to show the world that he can’t be pushed around, one supposes.
But it’s no way to apologize to an entire city that he’s wronged on so many levels.
David Nickle is Metroland Media Toronto’s City hall reporter.