By the time I finish writing this, the landscape may have changed again, but here's what we know now about Mayor Rob Ford and his quest to remain in office:
- A judge has ruled that Ford contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The mayor had a responsibility to know about the laws applicable to him as an elected official. He didn't bother. Then he broke those laws.
- The judge ordered Ford's seat vacant, to take effect on Dec. 10.
- Ford's lawyer has a hearing with Divisional Court on Dec. 5, in which he will seek a stay that will allow Ford to remain in office pending appeal. Most expect he'll get it.
- Ford will get an appeal hearing at the Divisional Court in early January. It's his one and only shot at appeal. Opinions are mixed on whether he's got much of a chance of winning.
- This one's new: The judge has now clarified that Ford is eligible to reclaim his office via a special by-election.
That last one changes the game. Previously, Toronto legal staff had interpreted the ruling to mean that Ford wouldn't be eligible to stand for election again until the next regularly scheduled campaign in 2014. That opened up a whole bunch of scenarios in which a bevy of other candidates would have come forward in a hypothetical by-election.
The judge's clarification brings up a bunch of questions. Should Ford lose his appeal and seek to return to office in a by-election, will anyone want to run against him? Ford will undoubtedly play up the idea that his removal was undemocratic, and so attempts to prevent him from reclaiming the seat he won handily in 2010 could be viewed negatively. And a failed bid to unseat Ford now would hinder a candidate's chances of mounting a successful campaign later on.
And is a by-election even worth it if Ford is just going to stand for — and maybe win — re-election? At $7 million, the price tag is steep. And realistically, this city would see only about six months of peace following a by-election before the proper campaigns for the 2014 election date start heating up. City Hall could end up spending a ton of time and money to end up right back where it started. That kind of circuitous movement is a bit of a civic tradition in this town, but it's worth considering if maybe council shouldn't just re-appoint Ford to the mayor's chair and save us all some grief.
But then there's democracy. Opinion polls have shown consistently that Torontonians don't really want Ford in the mayor's chair. Pollsters at Forum Research found that 52 per cent want Ford removed from office as a result of this ruling. A later poll by Angus Reid found that a whopping 69 per cent agreed with the judge's decision. Ford's approval ratings have been well shy of a majority for more than a year, and hypothetical mayoral races have seen him routinely trounced by candidates like NDP MP Olivia Chow. With Ford as a candidate, a by-election could serve as a prime opportunity to test the validity of these polls. If a majority of Toronto residents really want Ford out, here's a chance to kick him out the right way — at the ballot box.
Working against this theory? Our unfair electoral system, in which a deeply split vote between a handful of candidates could see Ford win a mandate with as little as a third of the vote. I'd feel a lot better about putting the question to voters if this city could see some semblance of electoral reform.
Of course, these hypothetical questions of by-elections and appointments could all be rendered moot if the Divisional Court rules in favour of the mayor at his appeal hearing. We're on unstable ground. But a couple of things are certain. First, anyone who tells you they know what's going to happen next is a liar. And second, the actual business of running a city has been lost under the weight of this story.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/ford-for-toronto-matt-elliott/2012/11/30/rob-ford-finally-gets-some-good-news-but-what-next.html on 2012-11-30T00:00:00.000Z