Rob Ford speaks to reporters at City Hall, Tuesday January 14, 2014. Photo by Ben Spurr.
A potentially messy spat between Toronto's two leaders was defused on Thursday, when Rob Ford said that he had no problem with the deputy mayor attending an important meeting on the December ice storm.
Initially Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly was not invited to the get-together Friday in Mississauga, where leaders from GTA municipalities will coordinate their requests for disaster aid from the province and federal government.
Ford was invited however, even though council revoked many of his powers in November after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine, making the deputy mayor council's de facto leader.
On Thursday afternoon, Kelly announced that he would be accompanying Ford to the meeting, and despite sparring with the deputy over the storm cleanup at council earlier this week, the mayor told reporters the two were "on the same page" when it comes to requesting a bailout.
"If he was invited, then he's welcome to attend," Ford said. "You know what, we're working together for the best interests of the taxpayers. I want to get money, I want a direct answer on how much we're going to get."
The mayor's remarks were in sharp contrast to statements Councillor Doug Ford, his brother and campaign manager, made a short time before. The councillor told media that the mayor was still the city's elected leader and compared Kelly to an uninvited guest who was trying to "crash the party."
Kelly laughed off that accusation.
"That's Doug being Doug," he said.
Kelly wouldn't say if he invited himself to the meeting or had been asked to go. But a spokesperson for Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who organized the summit, said deputy mayor "expressed an interest in attending and he was welcomed."
Kelly argued that he should be at Friday's meeting because he chaired the emergency committee that coordinated the city's response to the storm, which damaged thousands of trees and at its peak left one million people without electricity. He's also been speaking with Premier Kathleen Wynne about the storm damage, and plans to meet with her in the coming days. Wynne has refused Ford's request for a meeting on the grounds that he is no longer council's chosen representative.
Kelly rejected the suggestion that he was overreaching his authority, saying that council's decision to invest him with many of the mayor's powers justified his attendance at the storm meeting.
"There's no question in my mind that my presence at the table on Friday is legitimate," he said.
Kelly plans to ask the provincial and federal governments to each pick up a third of the storm costs for the entire GTA, with municipalities paying the remaining third. The ice storm cost Toronto an estimated $106 million, and a heavy downpour in July caused $65 million worth of damage. The city is seeking relief for both.
Although the confusion over which of Toronto's two leaders should represent the city has raised questions about who is in charge at City Hall, Councillor Josh Colle says it's a good idea for both Ford and Kelly to go to the storm summit.
"I don't think in any way it hurts. We always complain about Toronto being underrepresented at these things, so I think it probably actually serves us well," he said, adding that he considers Kelly, not Ford, council's representative.
But Councillor Gord Perks worries Ford's attendance might hinder Toronto's chances of securing disaster funding.
"I think Rob Ford has shown he's incapable of leading a government, and incapable of speaking broadly for that government. So his contribution in a meeting like that would be destructive," Perks said.
Perks acknowledged that although many of Ford's powers have been taken away he still holds the title of mayor.
That means "he gets to wear the chain of office and cut ribbons and do all that kind of stuff," Perks said. "But it doesn't mean he gets to negotiate on our behalf."