Rob Ford will ring in the New Year as mayor of Toronto.
Ford's lawyer convinced a judge on Wednesday to temporarily set aside the conflict of interest ruling that ordered the mayor to leave office by December 10. Instead of stepping down next week, Ford will now remain in his seat pending the outcome of his appeal.
That appeal will be heard by a panel of three judges on January 7 and a final ruling isn't expected until the following month, meaning Ford will likely remain in office at least until February.
Ford didn't attend Wednesday's Divisional Court hearing at Osgoode Hall, but speaking outside his office minutes after it concluded, the mayor was visibly relieved to have been granted the stay.
"I'm very pleased with today's decision, and I can't wait for the appeal," he told reporters. "I'm going to carry on doing what the people elected me to do. They voted for me to be mayor to get this city back on financial footing, which we've done. I've got a lot of work to do and I'm going to continue doing it to the best of my ability."
In a ruling that stunned City Hall, on November 26 Justice Charles Hackland determined that Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act at a February council meeting when he spoke and voted on a motion in which he had a financial stake. Hackland ordered him to step down in 14 days.
To win a stay of Hackland's decision, Alan Lenczner, Ford's attorney, had to prove three arguments Wednesday: that the appeal the mayor is pursuing isn't frivolous; that Ford would be dealt irreparable harm if a stay wasn't granted; and that keeping him in office for now is in the public interest.
After he laid out his arguments in a brief session Wednesday morning, Justice Gladys Pardu determined Lenczner met all three tests.
"It is clear that the Appellant (Ford) would suffer irreparable harm if he were removed from office, but it later transpired that his appeal was successful," she wrote in a two-page endorsement.
Pardu also noted the potential nightmare scenario of council calling a by-election or appointing a replacement for Ford, only to have his conflict ruling overturned on appeal. That would effectively reinstate him, resulting in two mayors claiming office at the same time.
"If these steps are undertaken... significant uncertainty will result, and needless expenses may be incurred if a by-election is called." Pardu wrote. "If the decision under appeal is stayed for a short interval until the appeal is heard, there is no basis to conclude that any harm will be caused to the public interest."
Before the hearing, many legal experts had predicted a judge would grant a stay of Justice Hackland's ruling, given its unprecedented effect of removing an elected mayor from office mid-term.
Lenczner was aided in his cause Wednesday by the consent of the plaintiff who originally brought the conflict of interest case against the mayor. On Monday Paul Magder and his lawyer, Clayton Ruby, announced they would not oppose a stay of the conflict ruling in order to avoid the upheaval that would accompany the mayor's ouster on only two weeks' notice.
That Ford's appeal will be heard so soon after Hackland's ruling was a major factor in the decision not to oppose the stay, Ruby told the judge.
"That early appeal date is very unusual in our system and I'm grateful to the court for making it available," Ruby said, noting that speedy resolution of the case is in the public interest.
Magder intends to fight Ford's appeal in January however. Should the mayor lose, he would have no recourse to a higher court and would be forced from office immediately. Council would then have 60 days to either appoint a caretaker replacement to serve until the end of the term in 2014, or call a $7-million by-election. In the interim, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday would assume the mayor's duties.