A new episode in Canada’s political soap opera aired Monday when the Toronto City Council voted to strip Mayor Rob Ford of much of his budget and staff, an act of frustration by a governing body lacking the legal authority to remove the foul-mouthed, substance-abusing magistrate.
The motions were debated in a contentious, belabored session chaired by Ford in his role as head of city government and repeatedly interrupted by his brother, Doug, also a council member, calling the session a “kangaroo court” bent on ousting an elected leader.
The 44-year-old mayor has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, buying illegal drugs and driving drunk. He has also used obscene language and graphic sexual innuendo during interviews on live television.
In live video streamed by CTV News and other Canadian media, Ford at one point was seen being shouted down by angry spectators when he forced a recess amid tough questioning. Ford then roamed the meeting hall to shake hands with supporters while most of the gallery shouted “Shame! Shame!”
Many of the 44 members of the City Council spoke in favor of reining in the mayor, with only his brother and a couple of allies disrupting the debate with accusations of politicking on the part of those behind the motion to curb Ford’s influence.
“The citizens of this great city have the right to know about the important work that we do,” Councillor Raymond Cho said, referring to media attention being drawn away from legitimate city business by what he called the mayor’s “crazy train.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said she supported the restriction of Ford’s powers because the mayor was flouting the law and refusing to respond to a police summons for questioning in drug cases.
“It’s not our job as councillors to stage an intervention,” Councillor Adam Vaughan said. But the mayor’s behavior and vulgarity have forced the council to take action to restore confidence in the city and its leaders, he said.
James Pasternak, another council member, said the mayor’s antics had “sucked the oxygen out of this chamber” and brought the worst kind of publicity to the city of Toronto.
Ford, the last to speak during the nearly four-hour debate, remained defiant and accusatory.
“This is nothing more than a coup d’etat,” he said. “What is happening here today is not a democratic process. It’s a dictatorship process.”
As he has done since the scandal escalated three weeks ago, Ford tried to pass off his trespasses as neither unique nor indicative of addiction. He said he could name at least two other council members with drunk-driving offenses and quoted the Bible in calling on those without sin to cast the first stone against him.
Ford then read a brief note of advice from the city’s Integrity Council advising him to recuse himself from the vote, which he did.
The motion, after 23 separate votes on individual provisions to slash Ford’s funding and transfer most important functions to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, passed 36 to 5.
Ford had spent the last few days giving interviews to Canadian and international media in which he vowed to remain in office to the end of his current term in October. He will then run for reelection, he said, even telling Fox News on Sunday that he would like eventually to run for prime minister.
On Friday, the council voted 39 to 3 to transfer to Kelly the mayor’s authority to appoint or remove city committee leaders. The councillors later that day gave Kelly authority to exercise extraordinary powers in a state of emergency.
As the move to shackle him gained momentum, Ford on Friday gave each of his staffers a $5,000 raise, claiming it was money already in the budget, the Toronto Sun reported. But the move was widely seen as a bid to stave off embarrassing defections once the council ruled to allow mayoral office employees to move to other jobs.
In a radio interview before the council meeting, Ford accused his detractors of opposing his cost-cutting measures and challenged them to call an early vote to test his popularity.
“If they want me out, they should just call a snap election,” Ford told AM640 radio.
Ford has become a favorite target of late-night comics, including during an opening segment of “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend.
But some politicians in Toronto and in the Ontario provincial government aren’t amused.
“We do have a city to run," Councillor Karen Stintz told CNN in an interview in which she complained that Ford seemed unable “to adhere to the laws that govern the rest of us.”