TORONTO – Ontario will consider offering “new tools” to Toronto if the city’s government decides it simply can’t function as a result of its scandal-plagued mayor.
The first significant move towards intervention was suggested Thursday by Premier Kathleen Wynne, who previously maintained it wasn’t the province’s place to respond to the controversy around Rob Ford.
Demands for Ford to step aside have reached a fever pitch over the past week after the besieged mayor admitted he smoked crack cocaine, confirmed he had driven drunk, denied allegations he consorted with alleged suspected prostitutes and spouted an obscenity on live TV.
“We’ve been watching this situation closely and listening very carefully,” said Wynne. “The things that we are seeing and hearing about Mayor Rob Ford are truly disturbing.”
The city council passed a symbolic motion Wednesday asking Ford to take a leave of absence, but the mayor said he wasn’t going anywhere.
On Thursday, Wynne emphasized that it wasn’t the province’s role or intention to impose its own preferences upon Toronto’s government.
But she did concede that she would consult the provincial opposition parties if the city requested action from Ontario.
“It’s up to the municipal level of government to address the issues they face,” said Wynne, adding that Toronto city council had to be able to function.
“If council were to clearly indicate that they lack the ability to function as a result of this matter, the province would respond to a request from council to be provided new tools, depending on what that request might be.”
Wynne added that she wanted Toronto residents to know that their city would not be defined by the Ford fracas.
“Toronto is more than one politician, it’s more than one government. Ontario is more than one politician or one government,” she said. “We will work together to ensure that the people’s interests are served.”
A former ally of Ford welcomed Wynne’s comments.
“I’m pleased she’s left the door open. A week ago that wasn’t the case and she wasn’t prepared to take action,” said Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong.
“Any decision to make recommendations to the province would require a majority of council to support it…I would hope that members of council would be moved to understand that these are very extraordinary circumstances and the public are expecting us to take some level of action.”
But one long-time Ford critic voiced his opposition to any province intervention.
“The province should stay away from this,” said Coun. Adam Vaughan. “As a resident of Toronto (Wynne) should be concerned. But the province has no business choosing mayors in Toronto. This is not some strange Victorian colonial outpost.”
The council will debate another motion Friday to try to strip Ford of some of his mayoral powers.
“We’re going to take his office away from him,” said Vaughan, explaining that Ford would still be able to vote and function as a councillor.
“This is not a revolt. This is a city council governing.”
Current municipal law makes no provision for the mayor’s forced removal from office unless he’s convicted and jailed for a criminal offence.