Rob Ford appeal hearing is end of line, one way or the other
Bruce A Stewart
Monday morning, in courtroom three at Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto, Ontario regional senior Justice Edward, flanked by madam Justices Lynne Leitch and Katherine Swinton, will bring their gavel down one way or the other on the career of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
In November, Justice Charles Hackland ruled that Rob Ford had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by soliciting donations to his high school football program using the resources and power of his office as a Councillor and then Mayor. The act requires a mandatory minimum sentence of removal from office, which was the penalty given (other possible penalties of fines, imprisonment and barring from seeking public office were not part of the decision).
Rob Ford appealed. Monday’s hearing is the end of the line: whatever the decision, it cannot be further appealed. If Justice Hackland’s decision is upheld, Ford must immediately surrender the chain of office — and Toronto City Council must then decide what to do — according to the City’s lawyer. The Ford camp, on the other hand, talks of further appeals (the usual “all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary”).
It is tiring how often a decision in your favour is “final” but a decision against you is “grounds for appeal” — must everything be played by the rules of repeated referenda for separation?
Rob Ford is apparently aware (finally) that his head is in a noose. His latest media play has been to ruminate regularly on Council simply appointing him to finish out his term.
Fat chance of that. Ford doesn’t have the votes — nor, given that this is an opportunity for others with ambition to manoeuvre their own way into power, is Council likely to consider that option for more than the few seconds it would take to say “no way”.
Council has been rancourous since Ford’s original case went to trial, and key issues on the docket aren’t getting the attention they require.
Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway is (literally) falling apart, with chunks of concrete falling onto traffic on Lake Shore Boulevard below it. Should it be torn down and not replaced, a tunnelled roadway (as was done in Boston) replace it, should it be refurbished, or torn down and replaced with a new elevated structure, and whatever the choice, should the city sell it off and let a private operator toll it, or keep it as a municipal asset and foot the bill?
A major developer has put a proposal for a large scale casino complex coupled to yet more condo and office development near the Rogers Centre (SkyDome) facility. Other casino proponents look at using some of the Port Lands to the east of downtown to build a similar structure. (Toronto, thus far, has escaped being a city with a casino.) Should the city go down the casino road at all? If it does, where should one or more of them be located? Are we thinking walk in, or drive up, as the major source of players? What else should the city get out of the deal (all the development by the lakeshore has left the area bereft of parkland, schools, community centres and the like as a new city of over 300,000 people has suddenly grown up on former industrial land). What should be done?
Then there’s the 2013 budget. Last year, Council overrode the Mayor, raiding contingency funds and reserves to restore many of the planned service cuts. This year, those opportunities aren’t there, and neither is the money.
In the wake of Ford’s trial, removal order, and appeal, even a vote to send out for coffee involves heated debate and tribal votes.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter what decision comes down (it’ll take a few days for the formal decision to be rendered). Rob Ford is toxic, tainted goods. If he were any sort of decent man, he’d have resigned already. Even if Monday sees his appeal victorious, Council will no longer be led by this Mayor.
Let’s assume Rob Ford is formally removed. What happens next to Canada’s largest city (and one of the few with a vibrant mixed economy still humming along)?
In the short run, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday takes over city administration, while Council has ninety days to decide whether to appoint a replacement Mayor, or hold a by-election.
A by-election would cost about $9 million all in (there are over two million eligible voters, and upwards of a thousand polling places to organize). At the moment, sentiment on Council is toward a by-election, to “clear the air and let Toronto’s citizens decide the question of who should lead”, although there are many who worry about the cost in a time of restraint.
Still, Rob Ford could run in that by-election — and in the suburban wards he remains popular. In a divided field of several candidates, he could win again. (In a straight up contest between two strong candidates, he’d be pressed to do so.)
What Toronto needs at this point is a Mayor capable of leading Council. Decisions need to be made on a variety of key issues. None will be made if a by-election goes on.
Frankly, the city’s economy (and people) can’t afford another lost year. Council should hope a quick and final decision comes down — the kind where Ford’s legal team says “you’re hooped” — and that Council appoints Holyday to finish Ford’s term officially, and get on with it.