Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
The controversial mayor of Canada's largest city is out of a job as of this morning, thanks to a technicality.
Rob Ford, the football-coaching, budget-tightening, bike-lane-removing, casino-desiring mayor of Toronto, has officially been removed from office. Earlier this morning a judge ruled that Ford violated the city's conflict-of-interest law with regards to a $3,150 donation lobbyists and corporations made to Ford's football foundation when he was a member of the City Council.
In the end it wasn't the money itself, solicited with city letterhead, that sunk Ford, an outsized character known for saying things like "cyclists are a pain in the ass." Instead, his participation in a City Council debate on whether his foundation ought to give back the money was what did him in. Though he had a financial stake in the proceedings, Ford failed to declare a conflict of interest, making a speech in the debate and casting a vote in his own defense.
Since taking office in December 2010, Ford has been one of Canada's most controversial political figures. As mayor of the country's most populous city, he cancelled a vehicle tax passed by the previous City Council, suggested the city privatize its zoo and performing arts center, and vowed to halt Ontario's Transit City plan and "end the war on cars."
As Nate Berg wrote on this site in August, "Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has not made many friends within the city's community of urban thinkers, designers and practitioners." At Ford's behest, Toronto began removing bike lanes on busy Jarvis Street last week, a move that opponents saw as emblematic of the mayor's attitude toward alternate modes of transportation. His support for a downtown casino has also riled up area businesses.
Naturally, many of Ford's opponents are celebrating today:
I hope Toronto commemorates Rob Ford's contribution to the city by naming a bicycle path after him— Jeremy Fisher (@TheJeremyFisher) November 26, 2012
HULKMAYOR ONLY WANT WHAT BEST FOR TORONTO EVEN IF DOWNTOWN ELITE TOO BLIND BY DESIRE FOR LIBRARY, BIKE LANE & PUBLIC TRANSIT TO SEE #TOpoli— HULKMAYOR (@HULKMAYOR) November 26, 2012
Yet "the great right hope" is only two years removed from winning a landslide in the mayoral election. After a campaign to cut government spending and get tough with unions, Ford's margin of victory of 11 percent was the highest for a mayor-elect in 15 years. If those supporters stand with him, he could run again for mayor in the next scheduled municipal election, in 2014.
Michael Kolberg, writing at the Toronto Standard, cautioned back in August that ousting Ford for what seems like a technicality could actually bolster his re-election chances: "the perception exists that the Mayor’s persecution is politically motivated. No matter how legitimate the conflict-of-interest charges may be, it feels like his opponents are trying to remove the mayor through a sneaky loophole." The celebration may yet be premature -- for a judge to remove the highest elected official of Canada's biggest city is unprecedented, and Ford has two weeks to appeal.
There were several potential outcomes to the current suit, which Paul Magder, a Toronto resident, brought against the mayor after reading about the City Council debate in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Ontario Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland could have ruled either that Ford did not violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, that he did so unknowingly, or that the amount of money concerned was too small to affect Ford's opinion of the matter. He could also have found that the law did not apply.
Instead, Hackland found Ford guilty and that his actions warranted his removal. "In my opinion, the respondent’s actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness," Judge Hackland wrote in this morning's decision. "As such, I find his actions are incompatible with an error in judgment."
Unless Ford successfully appeals the decision, he will be forced to leave office within two weeks. The City Council would then appoint a provisional mayor, likely Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, while it schedules a by-election. The ruling apparently will not allow Ford to run in a by-election, though it does not prevent Ford from seeking public office again in the future.
Top image: Mike Cassese/Reuters