So what can Toronto City Council do about the mayor?

By now, you’ve probably heard about His Worship, Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto and you probably have questions about whether he can be kicked out of office. The short answer is no.

The long answer is still no. The reason for this is that in most Canadian jurisdictions, whether we’re talking federal, provincial, or municipal legislatures, there is no provision for recall. The sole exception as far as I’m aware is British Columbia.

There are provisions for municipal officials to lose their seats. The first is one that you might remember from around this time last year: contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Funnily enough, this almost happened to the mayor before he won his appeal. The second is incarceration, which obviously hasn’t happened, but with the way the story is developing, who knows what’ll happen in a week.

However, municipalities are created and governed by the whims of the province. Theoretically, the province can do whatever it wants with a municipal government through legislation. And so if push came to shove, yes, the province can decide to remove a mayor from office. I mean, the province could technically dissolve the entire City of Toronto if it wanted to. But it probably won’t.

Unlike the province, municipal councils do not have such powers within their grasp. This was made clear on Wednesday, when Toronto City Council debated Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s motion MM41.25. Essentially, the motion did the following:

  1. request that the mayor apologize for lying about the video
  2. urge the mayor to cooperate with the police investigation
  3. request that the mayor apologize for writing the letter of reference for Sandro Lisi
  4. request that the mayor answer council’s questions about this debacle
  5. urge the mayor to take a leave of absense
  6. request the Integrity Commissioner to investigate

You’ll notice that the mayor doesn’t actually need to do any of that stuff. A lot of the debate on the motion was over the fact that it didn’t really do anything.

But as it turns out, council can do something, as long as it’s not forcing the mayor to go away.

On the same day that Councillor Minnan-Wong announced that he’d be putting the motion forward at the meeting (which, if we reach into our memory, was the morning of the mayor’s impromptu admission at noon that it turns out he did, in fact, smoke crack cocaine), Councillor John Filion had another motion drawn up that’d do the following:

  1. City Council suspend the power of the Mayor to appoint and dismiss the Deputy Mayor and Standing Committee Chairs under Section 27.40 of the Council Procedures.

The rest of the motion deals with keeping the current chairs and composition of the committees. This is the first motion that, unlike Minnan-Wong’s motion, has consequences for the mayor and removes one of his fairly significant powers. You may recall that when the crack video story first hit, Councillors Jaye Robinson and Paul Ainslie were both fairly critical of the mayor. This resulted in him removing Robinson from the Executive Committee and demoting Ainslie to a less important committee chair (and even later, he’d remove him for his subway vote).

This motion required notice to be given at the next council meeting. That was done and a special meeting was called for Friday to deal with the motion. So, that’s all council can do.

Or so we thought. After the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, it was announced that a second special meeting would be held after the first one on Friday. During the meeting on Wednesday, Councillor Josh Matlow had asked a question about the mayor’s powers during an emergency during the debate on the response to the July floods. Presumably, this motion was a result of that. At this meeting, this motion will be debated, which will do the following:

  1. Amend Chapter 59, Emergency Management to provide that the Deputy Mayor assume those powers and duties that have been delegated by City Council to the Mayor under its own authority, to be in effect until November 30, 2014.
  2. Amend the selection process provisions of Chapter 3, Accountability Officers, to provide that the selection panels are appointed by the Deputy Mayor and chaired by the Deputy Mayor or the Deputy Mayor’s designate, to be in effect until November 30, 2014.

What this essentially does is remove emergency powers from the mayor and give them to the deputy mayor. This is probably a good idea if the city fell into an emergency like another freak snowstorm or flood or something like we’ve been seeing last year.

And again, we thought we were done until today. Today, councillors decided to hold a third special meeting to be held on Monday. This one deals with this motion, which is a doozy:

  1. City Council delegate to the Deputy Mayor all powers and duties which are not by statute assigned to the Mayor.
  2. City Council reallocate the operating budget of the Office of the Mayor as follows:
    1. The staff salary and office budget under the control of the Mayor be the same as that of a member of Council.
    2. The balance of the operating budget be reallocated to the City Clerk’s Office to be administered under the oversight of the Deputy Mayor.
  3. City Council authorize that all existing members of the Mayor’s staff be offered the opportunity to continue their employment either with the Mayor or as part of a transfer of staff to be overseen by the deputy Mayor who shall assume responsibility for staffing, including hiring and firing.
  4. City Council suspend the necessary rules and substitute new rules that give effect to the following:
    1. The Deputy Mayor is the chair of the Executive Committee.
    2. The Executive Committee elects a vice chair from among its own members.
    3. the Mayor is no longer a member of all Council committees by virtue of office, and does not enjoy the rights and privileges of other committee members when present at a committee meeting.

So what does all of this mean? Part 1 is simple, it gives all the powers of the mayor to the deputy mayor except those that are legislated by provincial law. So this includes all those powers which are granted to the mayor through council bylaws.

Parts 2 and 3 are more interesting. These reallocate the budget and staff salary of the mayor’s office so that it’s the same as a regular councillor’s. It gives whatever’s left over to the deputy mayor. To prevent staff currently employed by the mayor from losing their jobs, there’s a provision that allows them to either stay with the mayor’s office or to move over to work for the deputy mayor. This is likely partially caused by the revelations in the latest unredacted version of the Sandro Lisi ITO which alleges that the mayor had improperly used his staff for personal errands.

Part 4 removes the last of the mayor’s powers. It removes the mayor from the chair of the Executive Committee and assigns the deputy mayor to be the chair. The vice-chair is then chosen from members of the Executive Committee because the deputy mayor was automatically the vice-chair.

Part 4c deals with a little-known power of the mayor. Technically, the mayor is a member of every council committee and has the right to move motions, speak, and vote. It’s not used very often; Ford himself used it only twice that I’m aware of. Part 4c makes it so that the mayor is no longer a member of any council committee.

If all of these motions pass (and there’s little reason to believe they won’t, otherwise the meetings probably wouldn’t have been called), the end result is that Rob Ford would just be a very loud councillor with a fancy title.

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