Rob Ford will return to City Hall on Monday claiming that after 60 days in rehab he's a changed man. But even before his first official public appearance in two months, it's clear his rocky relationship with the Toronto media is exactly the same as when he left.
The mayor's office issued a press release before the Canada Day long weekend Friday notifying media that it was limiting access to Ford's first post-rehab press conference. Those left out include NOW Magazine and Metroland Media Toronto, both of which are members of the City Hall press gallery. The Canadian Press, which was also initially left off the list, is only being allowed to send a photographer, while online outlets like Torontoist are barred altogether.
In the press release, Ford's spokesperson Amin Massoudi said that some media were being excluded because of "space restrictions" in the mayor's protocol lounge, where the press conference is scheduled for 3:30 pm. The capacity of the room is around 25 people, but it hasn't been used for press conferences since an incident in November when the mayor appeared with his wife to apologize for making lewd remarks about a former staffer and to respond to allegations he had been seeing prostitutes. After his speech Ford and a security guard caused chaos by charging through a crush of reporters in the crowded space.
"In order to ensure a safe environment for everyone, we kindly ask that all members of the media respect this arrangement," said Massoudi in the email, whose boilerplate lists "transparent and accountable government" as one of Ford's priorities.
Massoudi did not return several emails from NOW, or explain why the press conference was being held in the mayor's office instead of one of the several other venues at City Hall that could easily accommodate more reporters.
In an open letter to Massoudi, David Nickle, president of the City Hall press gallery, said the decision to exclude some reporters "thwarts democracy." He asked that the event be moved to the council chamber's member's lounge, where Ford has regularly held press conferences since the fall of last year, so that "the mayor can speak in front of all interested Toronto media."
"This is what the mayor owes Toronto-not only on his return to his elected position after a well-publicized paid leave of absence, but on any matter of municipal interest," wrote Nickle, a reporter and columnist for Metroland. "Choking off access to any one of those outlets or journalists is a disservice to Torontonians, by their duly elected mayor."
City spokesperson Wynna Brown also registered her disapproval. "This is not reflective of the approach or the collaborative relationships we have and value with members of the media, particularly our colleagues in the City Hall press gallery," she said in an email.
According to the mayor's campaign manager and brother Doug Ford, the mayor will read from a prepared statement and will not be taking questions.