Mayor Rob Ford is considering an injunction to stop Monday’s unprecedented city council meeting that aims to take away his budget and powers.
“At the present time, no decision has been made yet on what, if any, actions the mayor will take between now and Monday’s council meeting,” said Ford’s lawyer George Rust-D’Eye said in a telephone interview on Saturday.
Rust-D’Eye, a leading expert on Ontario municipal law, had a 75-minute face-to-face meeting on Saturday with Ford. Rust-D’Eye was hired last Wednesday, and all earlier discussions have been via phone calls.
“It was the first time I met him,” he said, conceding they may have crossed paths at a council meeting at some point. “But I’ve never dealt with him directly before, and never actually been formally introduced.”
If Rust-D’Eye and Ford don’t end up getting an injunction and the meeting goes ahead, Rust-D’Eye says he’ll still table written submissions setting out the mayor’s position.
After weeks of revelations including the mayor’s admission that he has smoked crack cocaine and driven under the influence of alcohol, city council has asked Ford to step aside and take a leave.
But he hasn’t budged, saying he’s staying put. On Friday, city council voted 41-2 to take away Ford’s power to make decisions without council’s consent during emergencies, and 39-3 to prevent him from firing councillors as chairs of committees.
An even harsher motion for Monday’s meeting aims to delegate to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly “all powers and duties which are not by statute assigned to the mayor,” and transfer the mayor’s office budget to the deputy mayor.
Rust-D’Eye said the motion “is couched in such generalized and ambiguous language,” that makes it difficult to find meaning to it.
However, he is firm that he believes council is not allowed to take this step.
“The council can’t just come along and say you don’t have those powers, and we’re going to essentially make you into the deputy mayor and the deputy mayor into the mayor,” Rust-D’Eye said, noting the law makes it very clear what the mayor’s duties are.
City spokeswoman Jacquie DeSouza has said defunding the mayor could be in contravention of provincial law.
“The city must have a mayor, which is required under the City of Toronto Act. The mayor has statutory duties, which he is obligated to fulfill,” DeSouza said in an email last week.
“Taking steps to remove funding from the mayor’s office would prevent the mayor from fulfilling his statutory duties and could result in potential court action against council,” she added.
The mayor’s statutory responsibilities include acting as chief executive officer, providing leadership to council and representing the city at official functions.
“They can’t just treat the mayor as another member of council,” Rust-D’Eye said. “Traditionally, and legally, Ontario municipal councils have been headed by a head of council, elected generally across the municipality.”
While Rust-D’Eye won’t say what steps Ford will take, litigation is always a possibility but not necessarily the best way to go.
“Going to court, it’s expensive, it’s complicated and it’s time-consuming and it may not solve the dispute between the parties,” he said.
“It would be better to try to convince the council that they shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “But if there is no other alternative, and if council is exceeding its jurisdiction, the only alternative is to go court to quash the bylaw,” after it is enacted.
He is not ruling out an attempt to ask a judge to block Monday’s meeting.
“It’s possible. You have to show urgency and you have to do the necessary paper work to get the thing in front of the court, and find a court that will deal with the matter,” he said.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything at the present time.”
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who is among 28 councillors who forced Monday’s special meeting, said the public wants city council to take decisive action.
“Council is not going to be threatened by George Rust-D’Eye or any other lawyer,” he said. “Council needs to do something to restrain the mayor and to protect his staff.
“Council needs to limit his power. If we believe we can do that, we will. I suspect we may have to go in-camera to get advice from the solicitor.”
Meanwhile, about 100 protesters gathered again Saturday at Nathan Phillips Square, calling for the mayor to resign.
Stephanie Stearn came up with a simple cardboard placard that said: “Even Santa Doesn’t Like You,” a reference to Santa Claus parade organizers who have asked the mayor to stay away from Sunday’s celebrations.
“This represents how bad it is. I know it’s a low-blow that Santa doesn’t like you, but it might be something he (Ford) understands,” she said.
Others like Dale Kowcenuk tried a simple sports analogy: “Game Over! Resign.”
“I’m fed up with the incompetent mayor,” he said. “I knew he was a loose cannon as a councillor. And I was terrified when he was elevated that it become such a gong show. But I didn’t realize his personal life would take over.”
Rishona Altenberg, 10, and Nina Stem, 9, brought along a colourful hand-drawn sign that they spent two hours colouring. It said: “We Need a Better Role Model.”