The past few weeks have been without precedent in many ways: the amount of international, national and local attention focussed on City Hall; ongoing appalling behaviour by the Mayor of this city; new revelations, allegations and admissions regarding Mayor Ford’s conduct, with no end in sight; and finally the overwhelming vote to strip the Mayor of most of his powers.
My office has been flooded with phone calls and emails, partly due to the high level of awareness and concern but also due to my role in the calling of three Special Meetings of Council to deal with my motions to remove much of Mayor Ford’s powers.
Some calls were from angry Ford supporters, from as far away as Saskatchewan. But by far the majority of calls and emails from constituents indicated strong support for my position that the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that something had to be done.
The actions I took in writing the motions, and in initiating the Special meetings to deal with them, were taken after much careful thought, many conversations with my colleagues on Council, and a considerable amount of personal sadness that the Mayor had, by his choices, left us with no viable alternative than to separate and protect the decision-making process from his highly destabilizing influence.
I will not attempt to chronicle Mayor Ford’s misdeeds, some of which he has admitted to, and others which remain as allegations at this point.
On Wednesday of last week, 30 Councillors signed a letter asking the Mayor to please step aside, for a period of time, to deal with his problems. I was one of the Councillors who initiated that letter. Before this, virtually all of the Mayor’s allies on Council, with the likely exception of his brother, had attempted to give this advice to Mayor Ford privately. When the informal approach was unsuccessful, Council, also on Wednesday, overwhelmingly supported a motion formally asking him to step aside and seek help. Again, the Mayor adamantly denied he had any serious problems and refused to take a break from his duties.
At this point, I asked Councillors to sign a petition for a Special Meeting on Friday to deal with my motion to remove the Mayor’s ability to hire and fire the Chairs of Committees and the Deputy Mayor. For more on the reasons for that motion, you can read the opinion piece I wrote for the Toronto Star.
On Thursday, the Mayor began the day with a public statement so grossly inappropriate that it cannot even be paraphrased. This was rapidly followed by the release of police documents including police interviews with several former members of his staff. If these statements are to be believed – the Mayor admitted to excessive drinking, and drinking and driving, but denied the rest – the pattern of misconduct, was not only on his personal time but crossed over into his role as Mayor.
By Friday, Council was so shocked, alarmed and fed up that it approved (by votes of 41-3 and 42-2) my motions to remove his power over appointments, and to transfer, to the Deputy Mayor, his authority to deal with emergencies.
Still, the Mayor rejected many personal pleas from friends and allies to step aside to seek help. Members of Council became so concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation that they supported my petition for a third Special Meeting, on Monday, to remove any other powers Council had conferred on the Mayor.
On Monday, all of my motions received the required two thirds vote of Council. Among other measures, many of the Mayor’s duties, including chairing the Executive Committee, are transferred to the Deputy Mayor.
Was the decision democratic?
All Councillors – and me in particular as the author of the motion – agonized over this point. Mayor Ford was duly elected and there are 11 months left until the next election.
To begin with, it is extremely important to note that all of my motions kept in place all of the councillors Mayor Ford had appointed to positions of authority. All of these councillors have supported his approach to government spending, in accordance with the mandate received by the Mayor in the 2010 election. By ensuring that the Mayor’s team remained in place, Council made it clear that the decision to reduce the Mayor’s powers was not politically-motivated; we were driven to it solely by his terribly bad behaviour and the need to protect the functioning of city government from a Mayor who was clearly spiralling out of control.
Secondly, the motions were overwhelmingly supported by the Mayor’s ideological allies on Council, as well as by Councillors from all parts of the City. In response to the Mayor’s suggestion that it was “a coup d’etat,” one commentator replied: “I’ve never seen a coup d’etat with so much voting.”
The Mayor noted the 383,501 votes he received in the 2010 election. But, at the same time, voters in the same area collectively gave the members of Council 415,546 votes. Individual councillors have limited authority, but Council as a whole has tremendous power, including deciding what powers it wishes to bestow upon the Mayor in addition to those granted him by provincial statute. What Council has the legal authority to give, it also has the legal and moral authority to take away if it believes that such action is in the best in interests of the City and its residents.
A positive by-product of the drama at City Hall is that it has brought together councillors who have, unfortunately in recent years, grown accustomed to working in ideological and geographical pockets. I am very hopeful that Council will actually function better over the next year than it has in the past three.
I believe that Deputy Mayor Kelly, with his greatly increased powers, will encourage this.
Will the Rob Ford sideshow continue? Only he can decide that. Based on his behaviour during Monday’s Council debate – mimicking drunk driving, bowling over a female councillor, leaving his seat to incite the audience in the Council chamber, and vowing to wage war on members of Council, like George Bush did on Saddam Hussein – it’s not going to be pretty.
But – please – feel confident that, no matter how dysfunctional it may look at times – Council is made up members who are, for the most part, rational, calm, intelligent, capable, hard working, and extremely mindful of the responsibility we have towards our constituents.
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November 19 – Video: The Day After on CBC’s Power & Politics November 18 – Council Speech: Introduction of Motion on YouTube November 17 – Video: Limiting Rob Ford’s Powers on CBC News Network November 15 – Video: Is the Process Undemocratic? on CTV News Channel November 15 – Audio: Curbing the Mayor’s Power on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning November 14 – Video: Completely Unpredictable on CTV News Channel Noevember 13 – Video: Fords see Politics as a ‘Bloodsport’ on City TV’s Breakfast Television November 10 – Video: Rob Ford’s Future on CBC News Network November 10 – Video: Not Ruling Out Rehab on CTV News Channel November 8 – Video: A Circus at City Hall on CTV News Channel November 8 – Audio: What’s Next for Council? on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning November 6 – Video: Can Council Limit Ford’s Power? on CTV News Channel November 6 – Audio: Should Mayor Ford Step Down? on CBC Radio’s The Current November 5 – Audio: Limiting the Mayor’s Powers at Council on CBC Radio’s Here & Now November 5 – Video: Train Wreck is in Sight on CTV News Channel