The Toronto City Council meeting yesterday was an exercise in contradictions. From the beginning of the meeting to the end, Councillors attempted to do their duty while the Fords, the “mayor” and his brother, persisted in bullying and intimidation.Expert municipal lawyer, George Rust-D’Eye, was hired by the Fords before the meeting to write a letter to the Councillors protesting their proposed attempt to curb his non-statutory powers, and to be present at the Council meeting to prepare for the court challenge which the Fords promise will come.Rust-D’Eye’s initial complaints were that the proposal to cut all his non-statutory powers was too vague, and that curbing Ford’s budget could impede his power to perform his statutory duties.
To meet these objections, legal staff assisted Councillors to draft a new motion which addressed the specific powers that were being curtailed. These included: assigning the Deputy Mayor to chair the Executive Committee and other key administrative committees, removing the Mayor from sitting on Standing Committees by virtue of his office, depriving the Mayor of his powers to designate or set times for items on the Council agenda and to choosing whether to speak first or last, providing City Council with power to fill vacancies on the Civic Appointments Committee and the City Housing Committee, and delegating to the Deputy Mayor those powers taken from the Mayor. In addition, the budget set for to the Mayor’s Office was cut by 60% and reallocated to the City Clerk’s Office to be administered under the oversight of the Deputy Mayor, effectively reducing the Mayor’s staff from twenty to eight. Staff currently working for the Mayor would have the option to transfer to the Deputy Mayor. There was considerable discussion how this budgetary allocation was determined and Councillors clarified with the City Manager that, should Ford find that he could not perform his statutory duties with the more limited budget, he could apply to the Council for further funds.
In their questions, Councillors were concerned to ensure that what they were doing could be defended in court. The City Solicitor’s opinion was that these were powers which came within the scope of the procedural bylaw of Council, and were not referable to Ford’s statutory responsibilities. In their speeches, the Councillors lamented that the Mayor had repudiated all their efforts to help him do the right thing. With the Mayor unresponsive, and his conduct more discreditable daily, the Councillors felt they had no choice but to do what they were doing. They voted on the amended motion, clause-by-clause. The votes carried with overwhelming majorities: 36-6, 38-4, 37-5, 32-10, etc. This was no left-wing “coup d’état.” It was the overwhelming decision of everyone, right, left and center, with only his brother and a handful of other supporters.
As conducted by the Councillors, the meeting was a sad and somber event, consistent with the seriousness of the occasion. The Fords, by contrast, treated the Council with contempt throughout. Both spent much of the meeting standing, Doug draped over the speaker’s dias (why was he not required to take his seat?), two hulking presences staring at the councillors seated at their desks in front of them. When Doug Ford spoke, he referred to the public in the gallery as “special interests,” “unions,” and the Mayor started to chant “NDP,” “NDP,” “NDP.” The meeting was about two hours old when a smirking Rob Ford left his desk and walked slowly along the aisle in front of the public gallery, his assistant taking photos of the people in the gallery. It is very intimidating to be photographed in such a situation. When people objected, Doug Ford joined his brother to bait individual members of the gallery. When there were calls of “shame,” “shame,” “shame,” from the gallery, the speaker Frances Nunziata ordered security to clear the public from the meeting. Needless to say, neither I nor anyone else moved. She called a fifteen minute recess when the shouting continued, and Mayor Ford knocked Councillor Pam McConnell to the ground. Fifteen minutes later, she rescinded her order, again admonished the gallery to keep silent, and demanded that Mayor Ford apologize to Councillor McConnell. Eventually he did.
At the end of the meeting, Ford’s last words to Council were that this was a “coup d’état,” and, as George Bush said to Saddam Hussein, “I warn you. I warn you. I warn you.” What they were doing was “the invasion of Kuwait” and would lead to “war” in the next election. Andrew Coyne in the National Post this morning caught the real flavour of the “menace” and “contempt for social norms” which has characterized the actions of Mayor Ford, and which was on display yesterday. As Coyne writes, “The mayor’s actions Monday were quite deliberate. They reflected the influence, not of intoxicants, but his own limitless ego and unformed character. As such it is not Ford who has the problem; it’s the city. The message he needs to hear, from every corner, is not get help, but get out.”
And with this, I will cease any further discussions of the Fords for as long as possible.