The title was coined by a friend commenting on the current state of Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford and of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister’s role in and reaction to the ongoing Senate scandal has preoccupied the nation for days, rightly so. As it applies to him, I think her analogy is more than apt. My focus here, however, is on the melodrama surrounding Mayor Rob Ford.
On October 31st, Rob Ford was the subject of two very significant public revelations in a Hallowe’en nightmare come true for the mayor. The first was Chief of Police Bill Blair’s press conference announcing that the police had in their possession a digital file which showed “what had previously been reported in the press” and which made Blair “disappointed.” The second was the release, pursuant to a Superior Court judge’s order, of the redacted contents of the Information To Obtain (the ITO) used by the police to obtain a search warrant in a lengthy drug-dealing investigation involving the mayor’s “part-time driver and friend,” Alessandro Lisi, and others.
Chief Blair’s announcement proved that the notorious video first described by the Toronto Star last May did, in fact, exist, contrary to what Mayor Ford had previously said. The existence of the images does not mean that charges can, or perhaps ever will, be laid against the mayor. To prove possession of crack cocaine, there must be a witness who took the video and a certificate of analysis confirming the nature of the substance. If the police have no such evidence, they cannot lay a criminal charge.
The redacted court documents are now being studied in detail and described by the press. See The National Post, November 2, 2013, p. A10. Telephone records show a pattern of many calls between Lisi and the mayor, including calls immediately after reports of the video first broke. Police surveillance reports show Mayor Ford in the company of Lisi, and numerous rendezvous between them, in sketchy circumstances. Regardless of any potential addiction to illicit drugs, the video and the ITO corroborate long-existing reports of his impairment by alcohol. And Lisi, already charged with dealing in drugs, has now been charged with extortion.
Most important, the ITO and the initial video images show a pattern of behaviour by the mayor which has shocked the city. All four daily newspapers (including the Toronto Sun) are calling for Ford to step aside. The Toronto Board of Trade has issued a statement asking him to take a leave of absence. His Council colleagues have expressed “great concerns” and are also calling on him to step down “so that he can deal with his personal problems.”
And Mayor Ford’s reaction??? Thursday, he was adamant that he had no reason to resign. Yesterday, his lawyer was demanding public release of the video. To what end? Release of the video will add nothing to the issue. Today, who knows? Those who know him well say he may do what he has done in the past: plow forward, always on the offensive, and brazen it through. If he does that under these circumstances, there will be no more powerful proof that he is incapable of being mayor of Toronto. Modern mayors understand that they must be accountable, transparent and, most important, must not bring the city and the Office of the Mayor into disrepute. Ford strikes out on all counts. He has lost his legitimacy as Mayor of Toronto.
If no powers presently exist to remove or suspend him from his office in these circumstances, then there is a hole in our law the size of a football field. Cities, even a metropolis the size of Toronto, are creatures of the province. As we saw in the Divisional Court decision on appeal of his conflict of interest case, cities cannot act beyond their statutory authority. Rather than muddling through, it should be incumbent on the City Council to petition the province to amend the Municipal Act or the City of Toronto Act to deal with this situation as soon as possible. Is there any political party in this province which would not support such an immediate amendment?