Toronto Council passed a motion this morning stopping Mayor Ford’s right to hire and fire the Heads of Council Committees and his Executive Committee and the Deputy Mayor.
I have to point out that in the rest of the province, councils do not have executive councils and the councillors not the mayor choose the heads of committees. An executive council often ends up making all the decisions and the other councillors are left out in the cold. As shown by Toronto, this leads to the left or the right controlling the council. In most of the rest of Ontario, including my council, councillors of all political stripes actually work together, not without some conflict, to do the best for their community. All across Ontario, a Mayor or Head of Council only has one vote. A Mayor rules by persuasion or speaks for the will of council in a non-partisan way.
I hate to say “I told you so” to the Minister of Municipal Affairs with whom I had a discussion about Toronto’s special powers for the Mayor a number of years ago. They were brought in during David Miller’s tenure and the government of the day liked David Miller. When making a law regarding the conduct of municipal governments or themselves, the province needs to remember this rule. Governments will change.
The worst thing the provincial government could do is either give councils the power to dismiss a Mayor or give themselves the power to dismiss a Mayor. A Mayor is elected by the people for four years. The case of Rob Ford is extraordinary and policy and laws should not be made as knee jerk reactions to the extraordinary.
I remember my years as a school trustee. The provincial government of the day took away the power of school boards to raise local taxes due to the excesses of some GTA boards. Our board had actually lowered taxes slightly right before the new rules came down.
I have listened to Mayors complain about their councils and councillors complain about their Mayor. I have known at least one Mayor who, because the councillors wanted “the other guy” as mayor, had to put up with his council working against him all term. That mayor would have been tossed out by the council. A mayor not liked by the provincial government could be tossed out for political reasons, much like the province sometimes takes over school boards that won’t or can’t balance their budgets due to the lack of money provided by the province.
The Municipal Act says:
Generally, there is no process for removing a councillor (e.g. by a petition of electors or by the council) before the next election.
However, the office of a councillor may become vacant in a number of ways including by resignation, by being absent from meetings of council for three successive months without authorization, by disqualification (e.g. the councillor becomes a judge, ceases to be a resident, is serving a sentence of imprisonment in a penal or correctional institution or, is convicted of a corrupt practice under the Municipal Elections Act,1996 etc.).
A citizen already tried to remove Rob Ford from office for a breach of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, but lost. The Conflict of Interest Act is a problem because a conflict is not well defined and the penalty, removal from office, applies whether the breach is small or big. The cost of lawyers fees means many councillors will declare a conflict, such as in the case of our Light Rail Transit project, to avoid a nuisance suit. If the councillor has a lot of money, ignoring a conflict often leads to a dismissal in court anyway. Terrible piece of legislation.
It is important to remember that Mayor Ford’s excesses have not been proven in a court of law. Our law says that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It is wrong to try people in the court of public opinion. Holding up these principles against someone who is obviously so out of control, reminds me of defending censorship. Something disturbing must be defended to protect the right of the innocent in the future.
Democracy demands that the person the public voted in, should serve and when the public votes them out, they should leave. If you are a citizen of Toronto and don’t like what is going on,vote in the next election. If you don’t, and most people don’t, you have only yourself to blame if Rob Ford gets back in.