On Friday, Toronto city council, through a series of quick and overwhelming motions, stripped Mayor Rob Ford of some of his mayoral powers.
This is a win for City Council, but also a win for Mayor Ford.
I know that this latter statement seems counter-intuitive.
But we are entering into unchartered territory here. And we may have crossed into the “Twilight Zone” of unintended consequences.
Cue the classic, spooky, “Twilight Zone” theme music.
With apologies to Rod Serling:
We’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; and of drug-dealing crackheads, a journey into a wondrous and strange land, called Toronto City Hall, whose municipal boundaries are that of imagination, sketchy cellphone videos and police wiretaps. Your next stop…the Twilight Zone.
According to the Globe, the motions were as follows:
“Councillors voted 39-3 to take away Mr. Ford’s ability to appoint and fire the chairs of the city’s standing committees and the deputy mayor. They also voted 41-2 to give his powers in an emergency to the deputy mayor.
On Monday, councillors will consider delegating to the deputy mayor “all powers and duties which are not by statute assigned to the mayor.” Under the initiative, Mr. Ford would get the same office budget as a councillor …. Mr. Kelly would replace Mr. Ford as chair of the cabinet-like executive committee. Mr. Ford would no longer have the right to cast a vote at any standing committee.”
The effect of these motions is that Toronto city council is unified in its condemnation of Ford’s personal actions. These motions demonstrate, according to councillor Filion, that Council is capable of functioning well and doing the work of the City, despite Ford’s misbehaviour.
Councillor Perruzza concluded that these votes helped restore some order to City Hall. And the mayor is still the mayor, the council is still the council. And the effect of these votes provides council and the city with a much more balanced form for council to move forward and conduct the business of the city in a much calmer, tamer, more sober environment.
Through these actions council has shot itself in the foot. The premier can no longer justify intervening to remove mayor from office because it would make city council seem incapable of handling its own affairs and politically insignificant.
But these measures also boost Ford, paradoxically.
And this is where the “Twilight Zone” analogy applies.
I believe that as a result of these motions, public and political pressure on Ford to resign will significantly diminish.
Notwithstanding further revelations damaging to Ford, Ford and council can now argue that the city is functioning perfectly well. And these are mere distractions, which do not interfere with council carrying on important city business. Council has inoculated Ford against further attack.
Though these council motions may be legal, they do not seem democratic. These motions may or may not reflect the will of the people who did elect Ford in the last election by an overwhelming margin. It is arguable that opponents of Ford on council are doing undemocratically what they could not do democratically at the polls.
The effect of these motions may transform Ford into a more sympathetic character. A martyr. And solidify his base and increase his support among other Toronto voters.
If Ford’s legal efforts overturn some of these council measures, Ford’s stock will further rise.
Note that council has confirmed the status quo as to committee appointments. These are all Ford appointees. Presumably, they still support Ford’s conservative and fiscal policies.
The leftists on council may have only won a Pyrrhic victory against Ford.
Because the left has not altered Ford’s conservative polices, at least to date.
In fact, leftist opponents on council, the Vaughans and Matlows may have checkmated themselves.
The moderates and conservatives on council have always argued that they support most of Ford’s conservative policies and programs. But such policies and programs have been undermined by his personal behaviour, implying that in the absence of Ford, they will continue to support these policies and programs.
Now that Ford has been stripped of some of his powers, these same councillors cannot backtrack on supporting these policies. Otherwise, their bona fides in attacking Ford on his personal actions may be questioned.
Similarly, the left has been weakened in challenging Ford’s policies. Because to do so seems not only unjust in view of what the councillors have done to Ford, but such actions would undermine the very reasons why they purportedly attacked Ford.
In other words, the left has to be very careful because they could be rightfully accused of attacking Ford not because they found his behaviour distasteful, but for ideological reasons.
This is a further win for Ford because as long as he is mayor, he still has legitimacy, credibility and a strong platform and bully pulpit from which to promote his candidacy for mayor in the next election.
Toronto Council must continue to act on the Ford Agenda of the last three years. Any divergence from that agenda calls into question the bona fides of those councillors in stripping Ford of his powers.
Any divergence from those Ford policies will give Ford further ammunition to use against his opponents in the next election.
Rob Ford is still a significant political force, both now and in next year’s mayoral race.
According to a recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid, 40 per cent of respondents approved of the mayor’s personal job performance — a significant bedrock of support given recent events. He also had the trust of 34 per cent of residents and he received a 30 per cent credibility rating.
I still like his chances against Chow, Tory and Stintz.