Liveblog: Council Debates the Rob Ford Question
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Liveblog: Council Debates the Rob Ford Question

Updates from City Hall as council decides whether to ask the mayor to apologize and take a leave of absence.

In a press conference on November 5, Rob Ford tried to put his admission that he had smoked crack behind him, saying whatever it was he did would “never, ever, ever” happen again.

Should councillors censure Rob Ford for his recent admission that he has smoked crack while in office, and for his prolonged silence on a great many other questions about his behaviour, his associates, and his months of lying to the public? Or should they wait for the voters to issue their judgement on election day? This, essentially, is the question that will be debated today, as councillors consider a series of proposed responses to the ongoing controversies surrounding the mayor. Among these proposed responses: asking the mayor to cooperate with police investigations, and asking him to take a leave of absence. The measures up for discussion at this meeting are all symbolic, and even if passed would have no force—council cannot compel the mayor to take any of these actions. (They will have another debate, at their next meeting, about measures that would go beyond symbolism and temporarily strip the mayor’s office of some key powers.)

We’ll be updating live throughout the debate. Follow along, right here.

3:58 PM: Council meeting continues! Up next on the agenda: curbing smoking in public spaces. We’ll take a break for now, but will be back liveblogging on Friday, from the special council meeting at which they’ll debate whether to temporarily strip the mayor’s office of key powers.

3:54 PM: To summarize: council has asked the mayor to apologize for misleading everyone about the video and for writing a letter of recommendation for Sandro Lisi; asked him to cooperate with the police investigation; and asked him to take a leave of absence. They have also asked the integrity commissioner to commence an investigation into the mayor’s conduct, and to report back to them as soon as possible on whether he has violated council’s code of conduct.

3:52 PM: The late addition of an integrity commission report—not Perks’ original motion, but a separate one moved by Shelly Carroll—also passed 35-6.

3:48 PM: The biggest of Denzil Minnan-Wong’s items: that council “urge Mayor Rob Ford to take a temporary leave of absence to address his personal issues, then return to lead the City in the capacity for which he was elected.”

3:38 PM: Next: to “request Mayor Ford to answer to Members of Council on the aforementioned subjects directly and not through the media” PASSES 33-9

3:35 PM: Third: that council “request Mayor Rob Ford to apologize for writing a letter of reference for Alexander “Sandro” Lisi, an alleged drug dealer, on City of Toronto Mayor letterhead” PASSES 36-6

3:34 PM: Second clause: that council “urge Mayor Rob Ford to cooperate fully with the Toronto Police in their investigation of these matters by meeting with them in order to respond to questions arising from their investigation” PASSES 34-5

3:33 PM: First clause: that council “request Mayor Ford to apologize for misleading the City of Toronto on the existence of a video in which he appears to be involved in the use of drugs PASSES 36-6.

3:32 PM: Voting time! The integrity commission report has been added to the list as an amendment to Denzil Minnan-Wong’s motion. (Procedurally this is dicey: you aren’t supposed to both vote on an issue and refer it to another office for a report simultaneously. But nobody has raised an objection.)

3:31 PM: Ford: “I’m moving on. You guys can do what you want.”

3:29 PM: Ford resumes his speech, to say “there’s nothing else to say.” And also, there’s only so many times he can apologize. “I Eff-ed up.” (That’s actually what he said—didn’t swear.) Now implying that other councillors have their own skeletons and illicit activity, but he “is not a rat” and won’t say more.

3:28 PM: The speaker’s ruling is upheld, 38-5.

3:27 PM: Honestly, if you pitched this to a Hollywood producer she’d tell you to go home and take some the crazy out, and come back with a more realistic version.

3:24 PM: Rob Ford has a motion! “That city council direct that all members of council undergo and drug and alcohol testing by December 1, 2013 with the necessary funds to be covered by Mayor Ford.” Jeers from the public gallery. The speaker rules it out of order, and the mayor challenges that ruling.

3:24 PM: Compromise: they will move right to the last speaker, Mayor Rob Ford.

3:22 PM: Paul Ainslie has just “called the question”—a procedural move that would cut off debaye so councillors can vote immediately. It loses 32-11. Councillors want to continue debating.

3:20 PM: As early reports about the new information contained in police documents make their way to councillors, they are starting to get more heated. Shelley Carroll just referenced “more mind-altering substances and the sex trade,” sending a jolt through the room.

3:11 PM: Integrity commission motion FAILS 19-25

3:01 PM @DenzilMW: The best the Integrity Commissioner can do is order an apology or suspend salary. Leadership is required today.

That’s a bit of willful misunderstanding on Minnan-Wong’s part. Perks’ concern is not primarily the sanctions but the due process and the independence of the report the integrity commissioner would produce. (Reminder: Minnan-Wong is actively contemplating a bid for mayor in 2014.)

2:58 PM: Feelings on the integrity commission motion are changing quickly, lots of back-and-forth among councillors—and could change a lot more if we see the police documents before they actually vote.

2:49 PM: Very mixed reactions to the referral motion, and it isn’t falling along typical political lines. Some of the mayor’s strong opponents want the integrity commissioner to investigate, but so do some centre-right councillors, like Karen Stintz.

2:37 PM: There’s an early look at what will be in the court documents getting released later this afternoon over at the Sun, which made the clever move of interviewing their own lawyer, since they can’t yet report on the documents directly. Key points: several members of the mayor’s staff believe him to be an alcoholic, and believe they’ve seen him with escorts. They have been sent to buy alcohol for the mayor, and at least one “saw him drinking a mickey of vodka, chased down by Gatorade, while he drove them home once from a Don Bosco football game.”

2:17 PM: To recap: the basic choice before council today is whether to pass a symbolic motion asking the mayor to apologize and take a leave of absence, or to send that motion to the City’s integrity commissioner, to trigger “an investigation of violations of the Code of Conduct by Mayor Rob Ford, and report back as soon as possible but no later than the February 19, 2014 meeting of City Council with any recommendations for appropriate penalties or sanctions.”

This is the key thing: the choice is either to symbolically condemn the mayor now, or delay the immediate response many people are seeking and wait for an independent report on the mayor’s conduct. Right now the votes are leaning to the former, symbolic motion. Councillors are under a lot of pressure from their constituents to both respond and be seen to be responding to the mayor’s behaviour, and a report that won’t come back for weeks or months won’t satisfy that desire.

Perks, for his part, argues that it is dangerous for council to rush to judgement, simply because there is right now no formal presentation of evidence against the mayor, or full examination of his activities. It is a bad precedent, he maintains, to issue symbolic denunciations of the mayor now at the expense of a process that would be more measured and independent, and come with advice about potential sanctions—ones that wouldn’t just be symbolic. It is also not council’s job to act in a quasi-judicial capacity, he says, which is why they should wait for the integrity commissioner’s investigation before taking action.

2:10 PM: Things we learned during the lunch break: the courts have ordered the release of redacted portions of the 474-pages of information police filed in getting a search warrant for Sandro Lisi, the mayor’s close friend. Among the passages that will be released—we’re expecting the information later this afternoon—are extensive interviews with several members of the mayor’s staff.

Oh, and the Santa Claus Parade has un-invited the mayor, asking him not to march this weekend.

The scene at the rally outside:

2:08 PM: And, we’re back. Security are still working on getting everyone into the chamber in some semblance of an orderly fashion—the lineup for the elevators that go directly to the council floor began at 1:15 p.m.

12:30 PM: And with that, we break for lunch. Back at 2 p.m.

12:28 PM: If the integrity commissioner recommends a penalty, then the member is required to be bound by that penalty.” And if they refuse, he goes on, “then, then we have a real tool.” Calls Minnan-Wong’s motion “well intentioned but hastily scribbled.”

12:24 PM: Referral motion! It’s just been introduced by Gord Perks, and it doesn’t call for referring to the Friday meeting but to the integrity commissioner, to investigate the mayor’s behaviour and provide an independent report to council by April 2014. “Members, I am heartbroken,” he says, and then explains that it is not councillors’ place to set aside another politician. “That’s what elections are for.” He also condemns the part of Denzil Minnan-Wong’s motion that asks Ford to meet with police, because politicians should never interfere with police investigations or direct how they should unfold.

12:16 PM: More shouting, also from the public gallery. Another recess. The Fords aren’t on the floor of council when we come back. Outside, NOW film critic Norm Wilner, who wrote a widely circulated piece about the mayor’s self-destruction, speaks at the rally.
rob ford crack protest corbin 4

12:10 PM: Doug Ford is shouting, “Don’t come across like you’re holier than thou!” Jabs his finger in the direction of Denzil Minnan-Wong, asks whether he’s ever smoked marijuana. Asks all councillors who have ever smoked marijuana to stand up. More finger jabbing.

12:10 PM: Denzil Minnan-Wong has decided not to ask for the province to intervene. The motion had no hope of passing—it would have set a terrible precedent on several fronts (on the autonomy of the municipal government, and on interference with due process).

12:07 PM: Crowd outside now up to a couple of hundred. Current chant: “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Rob Ford has got to go!”

rob ford crack protest corbin 3

11:59 AM: “Mr. Mayor, have you ever assaulted a member of your staff?” asks Glenn de Baeremaeker. Ford looks confused. “Um…have I ever…I don’t think…” and then eventually says, “No, I have never assaulted a member of my staff.” (The Star recently reported that he pushed a member of his staff to the ground during a drunken incident in his office.)

11:55 AM: In the public gallery: a few Ford supporters, a great many more who want him to go, and several groups of J-school students.

11:53 AM: “I have talked to professionals; I have talked to my family,” says Ford, but refuses to answer the question “Are you saying you’re getting professional help?” directly.

11:53 AM: In Nathan Phillips, some well-prepared protesters made extra signs: “Fraud” and “Resign” being passed around.

rob ford crack protest corbin 1rob ford crack protest corbin 2

11:48 AM: So, the backstory on the current strategy. There are several groups of councillors in play: one contingent supportive of the mayor wants to drag this debate out, believing that the more councillors question Ford, the worse they will look and the more they will seem to be ganging up on him. Centrist and left-wing councillors are trying to move quickly through proceedings and are rumoured to be planning a referral motion—one that would put a pin in this whole debate until the special meeting on Friday. Attempting to block them is another contingent supportive of Denzil Minnan-Wong’s motion; they need to drag this debate out longer not to elicit sympathy for the mayor but to buy time: they are worried a referral motion would pass, and they want to whip votes to oppose it.

11:46 AM: Ford, on the men in the photo with him: “I have never met those people in my life. They came out and ask me to take a picture… I met those people once, and I’ve never seen them again.”

11:43 AM: Giorgio Mammoliti begins by apologizing to the mayor and expressing his regret that Ford has been subject to this questioning. Then—

Mammoliti: “Do you think you have an addiction problem with alcohol?”
Ford: “Absolutely not.”
“Do you think you have an addiction problem with substance abuse and illicit drugs?”
“Absolutely not.”

11:40 AM: A rally is scheduled to take place just outside City Hall at noon. Right now, reports our photographer from down there, there are maybe 20 protesters, 20 curious onlookers, and 20 media. Also, “some people promoting a trip for two to Washington D.C.” hoping to capitalize on all the cameras in Nathan Phillips.

11:35 AM: Ford: “That is not a crack house.” He’s speaking about 15 Windsor Drive, which police say is a suspected crack house, and in front of which Ford was photographed with several alleged gang members. He’s under questioning from Michael Thompson. Ford says it’s a family home—there’s a mother, and also a father who recently died—and Thompson isn’t a position to say otherwise.

Ford: “Have you been in that house?”
Thompson: “I have no interest being in that house. I am not a crack user.”

Gasps throughout the chamber.

Video courtesy of Global News.

11:34 AM: It’s official: clerk’s office confirms there will be a special council meeting on Friday to deal with Filion’s motion.

11:31 AM: Denzil Minnan-Wong questions the mayor:
DMW: “Do you still have zero tolerance for drugs, guns, and gangs?”
Ford: “Absolutely.”
DMW: “Can you tell me how that applies to you?”
Ford: “I just did.”
DMW: “Have you purchased illegal drugs in the last two years?”
Ford: “Yes, I have.”

Minnan-Wong doesn’t use the rest of his time and sits down.

Video courtesy of Global News.

11:29 AM: “I have been here every day, and straight!” the mayor says, in response to questions from his former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Del Grande is questioning him on workplace management and what you look for in a good employee.

11:23 AM: Often when councillors go on seemingly idiotic digressions, it’s because they are trying to buy time while votes get whipped behind the scenes, waiting for key councillors to leave or arrive, or otherwise deploying time-specific strategies. In this case, it seems some councillors are trying to run out the clock to the scheduled stop for lunch at 12:30, so they can whip votes during the 90-minute break.

11:20 AM: Polling numbers! Councillors are now discussing the rules about walking around on the floor of council, because they have their priorities in order. In the meantime, here’s the latest survey about the mayor: 76% of Torontonians want the mayor to step aside either temporarily or permanently.

11:18 AM: An indignant Ford protests, starts saying “Madam Speaker, I’m sorry but…” and gets drowned out by applause. He has said sorry, and the speaker says “that’s all I wanted to hear.” We are moving on. Much laughter (though not from Ford).

11:12 AM: Back from recess. Which is to say: back to Minnan-Wong’s attempt to ask the mayor to apologize for blocking his path and generally being threatening. To which Ford says: “Madam Speaker, I did not threaten Councillor Minnan-Wong in any way, shape, or form.” Minnan-Wong’s pushing the point. Ford says Minnan-Wong shouldn’t have been walking around in the middle of the debate anyway, “so there is nothing to apologize for when I am following the rules, and he is not.” Speaker rules that Ford should apologize because several councillors witnessed this. An ever-reddening Ford refuses.

Video courtesy of Rogers TV.

11:06 AM: John Fillion has just filed a petition with the City Clerk, with 24 signatures from councillors, calling for a special meeting of council. (A majority of councillors can call for a special meeting on a specific issue with 48 hours notice.) This will allow council to debate his motion—the one stripping the mayor’s office of key powers—later this week, instead of waiting for the next scheduled council meeting in mid-December.

10:58 AM: Denzil Minnan-Wong rises on a point of privilege, saying that Rob Ford blocked his path “in a threatening way” when Minnan-Wong tried to walk around. This leads to heckling from the mayor and his brother (“You’re running for mayor!”), shouts from the audience, and speaker Frances Nunziata banging her gavel. Five-minute recess.

10:56 AM: The City solicitor confirms what we already knew: Minnan-Wong’s motion is symbolic, and council has no power to compel the mayor to take any of the steps it outlines.

10:53 AM: And, debate on Minnan-Wong’s motion is underway. The process begins with questions to staff: any councillor can ask key members of the civil service questions about the impact of the motion being debated. During questioning, the City’s top civil servant, Joe Pennachetti, says: “I would say that we are not in crisis—all City business is being completed as normal.” Some snorts from the public gallery.

10:48 AM: John Filion also has a motion regarding the mayor’s conduct, only instead of being symbolic it would have some practical impact—it calls for temporarily stripping the mayor’s office of its powers to appoint the deputy mayor and committee chairs. The motion requires a two-third majority to pass, and if it does, it will be in effect until the end of Rob Ford’s term of office next year. Why Filion is moving this: these are the key powers council can curb—there’s nothing else that he knows of that they could to to limit his authority—and it would insulate councillors from retribution for opposing the mayor. Existing committee chairs, all of whom were appointed by the mayor, would keep their current posts, to ensure this isn’t a backdoor way of altering the administration’s political goals.

10:42 AM: The full text of councillors’ petition to the mayor:

We write to you as colleagues representing wards from across the city and political spectrum. Over the past six months and especially the last few weeks, we have grown increasingly concerned by the seemingly endless cycle of allegations, denials, and belated admissions about your behaviour.

Toronto is distracted, and for good reason. Our city’s reputation has been damaged and continues to suffer, and it has become difficult to focus on the pressing and substantive issues facing city council. Together we stand to ask you to step aside and take a leave of absence to address your challenges privately, outside of the public eye.

We believe that the majority of Torontonians share our view and that city council will excuse any absences you require to address this situation with finality. The city and the office of the mayor demand nothing less than honesty, accountability, and transparency.

10:36 AM: Why do Perks and some other mayoral opponents reject the calls for the mayor to take a leave? The idea is that there is no way in current council procedure to set the mayor aside, no confidence motion or other removal mechanism, and thus for politicians to intervene to ask another elected official to step aside interferes with the democratic process.

10:32 AM: The petition is treated as a motion, and voted on. It passes with only two dissenters: Rob Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti. Even Doug Ford voted for it.

10:28 AM: “Dear Rob Ford,” begins councillor Jaye Robinson, and the room goes dead silent. She reads a petition urging the mayor to get help and step aside from his work. It is signed by 30 of the 44 councillors, and she reads their names one by one. Each one stands up as their name is called. It is a great piece of visual theatre—the seated mayor facing 30 of his colleagues standing to censure him—but it is entirely symbolic. Among the councillors who did not sign the petition are several of the mayor’s closest allies, and some opponents such as Gord Perks.

Video courtesy of Rogers TV.

10:18 AM: There’s a group of small kids here, peering over the glass partition. Generally when this happens it’s cute. Today, a bit uncomfortable.

10:16 AM: Once the motion is introduced, any councillor can introduce other proposed measures regarding the mayor, and they would be considered as amendments to the motion below. Denzil Minnan-Wong has already promised one: to ask the province to intervene and remove the mayor from office, should he not follow the course of action set out below. There will likely be others.

10:14 AM: When we do get to the Ford issue, here is the multi-part motion that will be up for debate:

1. City Council request Mayor Rob Ford 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.

2. City Council urge Mayor Rob Ford to co-operate fully with the Toronto Police in their investigation of these matters by meeting with them in order to respond to questions arising from their investigation.

3. City Council request Mayor Rob Ford to apologize for writing a letter of reference for Alexander “Sandro” Lisi, an alleged drug dealer, on City of Toronto Mayor letterhead.

4. City Council request Mayor Ford to answer to Members of Council on the aforementioned subjects directly and not through the media.

5. City Council urge Mayor Rob Ford to take a temporary leave of absence to address his personal issues, then return to lead the City in the capacity for which he was elected.

10:04 AM: First item of interest: the boilerplate the City appends to all its news releases has taken what many consider to be an inappropriately ideological slant under Mayor Ford. The communications office has already agreed to change it, but has to date not been able to reach consensus on new language. More precisely: “Since the City began using a news release boilerplate in 2006, City staff have worked collaboratively with the Mayor’s Office on the development of the boilerplate paragraph. There has not been agreement on a revision to the existing boilerplate.” The matter will now go to council’s executive committee (which is the most powerful of council’s committees—it’s a sort of unofficial cabinet, and includes most of the mayor’s remaining allies).

10:02 AM @CityCynthia: My cameraman tells me packed chambers now closed by security, elevators blocked, if we leave we can’t get back in #topoli

9:51 AM: Mike Layton is once again growing his Movember ‘stache. The resemblance is uncanny. He also has a giant tupperware tub of gingerbread cookies. This will be a very cozy and friendly debate! Drugs, gangs, and gingerbread.

9:44 AM:If you’ve never followed a council meeting in detail (welcome!), here is the order of operations: they ring the bells to call everyone to their seats, play the anthem, and then there’s a moment of silence for municipal leaders and other key figures who have died since the last meeting. Then there are a few more formalities: proclamations and the like. This will be followed by a process that lasts an hour or two, during which council establishes what’s called the “order paper.” Essentially, they take all the motions—several hundred—that are on the agenda for this month’s meeting, and then hold the ones they want to debate in full. (Any motion that isn’t held is automatically passed.) They will also decide on any timed items—if, for instance, there is a big debate planned on the Toronto Community Housing budget, and they want to make sure everyone is present (including staff members who might need to answer questions), they can pin it to a specific hour during the meeting. Once the order paper is passed, then we begin in earnest.

9:41 AM: The absolute busiest we’ve ever seen council chamber: media, students, members of the public scrambling for seats. The mayor missed the singing of the national anthem, walks in right after.

9:30 AM: The mayor’s former chief of staff, Mark Towhey, wrote a very good analysis of the measures council is slated to discuss. The gist: these measures are toothless (they are), and councillors will look bad debating them (we’ll see, but likely).

In theory, councillors could decide to vote on the measure without debate, but there’s little indication they’ll do so. This would avoid the prospect that both the mayor’s allies and opponents have pointed out; namely, that with 44 colleagues questioning him, Ford may seem the victim of all this, and councillors the bullies.

9:24 AM: Some people both in City Hall and outside it have been making the case that the mayor doesn’t matter all that much in Toronto: we have a relatively weak mayor system (as opposed to “strong mayor” systems, in which mayors have more direct executive authority), and he is only one vote of 45 on council. Here, for the record, are the mayor’s official duties, as outlined in the City of Toronto Act:

It is the role of the mayor of the City, as the head of council,

(a) to act as chief executive officer of the City;
(b) to preside over meetings of council so that its business can be carried out efficiently and effectively;
(c) to provide leadership to council;
(d) to represent the City at official functions; and
(e) to carry out the duties of the head of council under this or any other Act.

As chief executive officer of the City, the mayor shall,

(a) uphold and promote the purposes of the City;
(b) promote public involvement in the City’s activities;
(c) act as the representative of the City both within and outside the City, and promote the City locally, nationally, and internationally; and
(d) participate in and foster activities that enhance the economic, social, and environmental well-being of the City and its residents.

9:19 AM: Here was the scene just over a week ago, as Rob Ford held a press conference to follow up on his admission that he had, in fact, smoked crack while in office.

Video courtesy of Global News.

Lead photo by Christopher Drost. Photos from council debate by Andrew Louis. Photos from Nathan Phillips rally by Corbin Smith.