Councillors Moving to Curb Rob Ford's Powers
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Councillors Moving to Curb Rob Ford’s Powers

Here are the two motions currently being circulated by councillors in an attempt to restore calm to City Hall

Rob Ford on the day of his first council meeting in December, 2010.

Just a few moments before Rob Ford’s admission, after months of questioning by media, that he has smoked crack cocaine while in office—”about a year ago,” he said in a surprise scrum, “probably while in one of my drunken stupors”—several councillors announced that they were working on motions to bring to city council to censure the mayor and curb the powers of the mayor’s office for the duration of this term.

There are two motions that we know of at the moment, but this situation is changing quickly; we’ll continue to update with new developments as we learn about them.

Motion curtailing mayor’s powers

Proposed by John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) and seconded by Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East), this motion would:

  • Suspend the mayor’s power to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and the chairs of city council’s various standing committees (like Public Works and Infrastructure, Parks and Environment).
  • Confirm the appointments of the existing committee chairs and the deputy mayor, all of whom were selected for their posts by Rob Ford.
  • Revise council procedure so that in the case that the deputy mayor (currently Norm Kelly) steps down his replacement would be chosen by city council rather than the mayor.
  • Revise council procedure so that in the case that any committee chair steps down his or her replacement would be chosen by the members of the relevant committee rather than the mayor.

Force and effect: If passed, this would strip the mayor of the key procedural powers he currently possesses. Council is made up of 45 members—44 councillors plus the mayor—and each has an equal vote during council meetings. However, council policy is fed through the committee system: new policy proposals start in one of the committees and if passed there move up to a vote of full council. This means that committee chairs, who set the agendas for their respective committees, are the ones who have the greatest influence on what matters do and don’t get heard at council. Appointing the committee chairs is a relatively new power for Toronto’s mayor; it was granted in 2006.

Political impact: It is crucial to note that this is not an attempt to slip in a shift in the policy trajectory at City Hall, since this motion explicitly reaffirms that the current deputy mayor and committee chairs, all of whom were appointed by Rob Ford, would keep their positions. As written in the motion: “This is desirable to create stability and to preserve the mayor’s intention to appoint a fiscally conservative leadership, in keeping with the mandate given to him by voters in 2010.”

Needed to pass: One council meeting to provide notice of a change to existing power structures at City Hall, and a second council meeting to actually vote on the motion. It will take a two-thirds majority to take effect, and has a built-in sunset clause that ensures these changes in procedure would end when this term of council does.

Motion for an apology and leave of absence

Proposed by Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) and Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), this motion would ask the mayor to:

  • Apologize “for misleading the City of Toronto as to the existence of a video in which he appears to be involved in the use of drugs.”
  • Apologize “for writing a letter of reference for Alexander ‘Sandro’ Lisi, an alleged drug dealer, on City of Toronto mayor letterhead.”
  • “Fully cooperate with the Toronto Police in their investigations of these matters.”
  • Answer to members of council on the aforementioned subjects directly and not through the media.”
  • Take a leave of absence “to address his personal issues.”

Force and effect: Moral but not practical. A clear condemnation coming from his allies, this would indicate to the mayor that he no longer has the support of council, but the authors of this motion are using words like “urge” and “recommend” rather than requiring specific actions. This motion does not directly address the mayor’s powers.

Political impact: At this point, probably minimal. If it had come earlier in the scandal, it would have had a greater effect, but given the latest developments this would be a fairly tame response by council, since it doesn’t tackle practical governance issues.

Needed to pass: Regular majority of councillors at the next council meeting.