For a Ford administration lollygagging through the dog days of summer, the defection of chief of staff Amir Remtulla, announced Saturday in a hastily slapped together press release, is yet another explosive twist in a meandering political narrative that seems destined to end badly.
Remtulla is leaving on July 20 to become VP of external partnerships for the Pan Am Games.
For those keeping score, that's nine staffers gone from the mayor's office from a complement of 25 in just over a year and a half since he took office. That kind of turnover points to a level of dysfunction that should have even Ford supporters worried.
Except, when you're talking about the current mayor and his meddlesome older brother Doug, the councillor for Ward 2, that fun fact can't come as a total surprise.
And truth is, around 100 Queen West Remtulla's leaving had been rumoured for months, ever since the mayor's embarrassing Sheppard subway defeat. You could say there was a falling out over that, although Remtulla might be too polite to characterize it that way. The mayor wanted someone to blame for that political slap upside the head, and Remtulla, made a convenient fall guy, though the mayor didn't really get up off his ass to marshal the votes for his subway schemin'.
According to one Queen's Park source, it was around then that Remtulla started working on his exit strategy, letting PR firms know that if the right opportunity came along he'd be willing to jump.
Once that juicy tidbit reached higher-ups in the McGuinty government, it was just a matter of time before the wheels were set in motion to turn the info to political account - and make life more complicated for arch-enemy Ford.
For the province, Remtulla's Pan Am appointment does two things, besides throwing a grenade in the Ford camp.
First, it's great optics to have a member of a visible minority in the Pan Am fold in charge of ethnic outreach and pushing the Games' diversity theme.
Second, it neutralizes a Tory opposition that's been happy to pounce on management of the Games as a "mess." Not so easy to do when you've got a high-profile Tory like Remtulla helping to run the show.
There were hints, not so obvious, that Remtulla was keeping his options open even while acting as Ford's chief of staff.
His status as a registered lobbyist at Queen's Park for his former employer, Molson Coors, was only deactivated in March, more than a year after he took the job in the mayor's office.
It's not entirely clear why that was. Remtulla didn't respond to a request for comment from NOW. "An oversight" is how the mayor's press secretary, George Christopoulos, who called in Remtulla's stead, characterized it.
In the press release from the mayors's office announcing his departure Saturday afternoon, July 7 (it should be noted that this was hours after the Sun caught a whiff of a possible exit), Remtulla is credited with piloting a number of the mayor's key initiatives, among them the Core Services Review, the outsourcing of garbage west of Yonge, and contract negotiations with the city's unions.
By all accounts, Remtulla was an honest broker.
As one City Hall insider put it, "Amir did a tremendous amount to help the mayor in ways His Worship may not realize."
But clearly, some of the accolades thrown his way by the Ford team were meant to disguise the fact that all wasn't honky-dory in that relationship. "Pure PR" is how one councillor described the seeming good vibrations on both sides.
Remtulla discovered what others who've worked for Ford and jumped ship know all too well: he's an unmanageable package.
Let's also recall that Remtulla's was a purely patronage appointment. A member of Ford's transition team, he came to the mayor's office via his connection to former Lastman deputy Case Ootes, Ford's go-to guy in the early days of his fledgling administration.
Those early news stories on his appointment talked about the calming influence he'd have on an insular admin still trying to find its feet.
But the opposite would prove true. In the light of those early expectations, Remtulla's tenure can only be seen as having been designed to give the illusion that Ford and Co. were prepared to work with the rest of council, when in reality they were not. Brother Doug was undermining Remtulla at every turn, just as he had Adrienne Batra, the mayor's former press secretary, who has since landed at the Sun.
It's difficult to square the departing tributes for Remtulla with the downward spiral that started with the mayor's big budget embarrassment, the defeat that proved the last straw for mushy middlers and a few right-wing allies of the mayor, too. Council has been happily charting its own course ever since. The question now is who will fill Remtulla's shoes.
Ford being a creature of habit, it's unlikely he'll look any further than his immediate orbit.
So far, Mark Towhey, his director of policy and strategic planning, and Andrew Pask, his former council liaison, are the two names being kicked around. Neither would be a prudent political choice (see sidebar).
The mayor would be well advised to think outside the box, but it may be too late for that. Absent a serious agenda, what reasonable person would be willing to take on a job that's tantamount to glorified office manager?
Some say the rumoured departure of interfering brother Doug for provincial politics will clear the way for smoother sailing, whoever takes over from Remtulla.
But don't count on the elder Ford going anywhere soon. His victory would be far from assured in a runoff in Etobicoke North. And he's already said he won't be giving up his council seat if he does decide to run provincially. Plus ça change....