Rob Ford's not going anywhere. At least, not if he has anything to do with it. But at this point, control of his political future is not in his hands.
The embattled mayor used his Sunday radio show with big brother Doug to make his case for council calling a by-election in the event his appeal on conflict of interest charges is denied, which looks more certain than not at this point.
"It's only fair that people have the right to vote," Ford said.
The mayor's show was a nicely scripted bit of self-promo that included calls from the usual suspects among his incredibly shrinking coterie of council supporters, and a few bars of Jingle Bells. Nice to see the mayor in the Christmas spirit.
But it was shades of the bully Ford the public saw after Justice Charles Hackland's bombshell, the guilty ruling on conflict of interest last week that ordered Ford removed from office.
First, there was defiance, with the mayor blaming Hackland's ruling on a left-wing plot. Then the non-apology apology, after the disaster he'd made with his initial reaction, had sunk in. That was followed by a blow-up at council late Thursday over a development proposal in arch-enemy Adam Vaughan's ward. The mayor (can we still call him that?) was up to his old tricks, accusing Vaughan of trying to "shakedown" a developer for neighbourhood improvements. Clearly, the mayor needed to let off a little steam, spew some venom after the worst week of his political life.
The one silver lining, news Friday that Hackland had amended his decision to allow him to run in a by-election, if council decides in its wisdom there should be one, was greeted as a legal victory by Ford supporters. But is it really?
A by-election adds up to a complicated proposition for Ford. Why? Well...
1. Now Rob will actually have to defend his sorry ass record to a public that's fed up with the antics.
When the question of whether he could or could not run in a by-election was in doubt, the plan was for big brother Doug to run in Rob's place, while Rob bided his time on the sidelines, building that rolodex to come back as the conquering hero in 2014. No big bro now to fight his battles and deflect attention.
That scenario would have been preferable for Ford. As is stands right now, Ford would lose in a by-election. The two polls since Hackland's decision tell us so. The first, conducted by Forum Research, found 60 per cent agreed with the judge's decision to remove Ford from office.
Angus Reid's numbers are even worse for Ford. Sixty-nine percent in that poll agreed he deserves the boot. The kicker: 40 per cent of those who voted for Ford last time in that poll said they won't throw their ballot his way if he runs in a by-election.
Which is why council's left is champing at the bit for a runoff. And others with political ambitions on the right are urging the mayor to drop his appeal. Those close to the mayor are of the view that a by-election is the best of a number of bad options. They're already on to their next talking point: no by-election; let's get back to work.
2. A by-election mucks up Ford's appeal strategy.
Now Ford's lawyers can't argue that the penalty imposed by Hackland to toss him from office is too severe, which was expected to be the cornerstone of the mayor's legal action plan. The other side can now argue that a by-election affords Ford the opportunity to defend himself in the court of public opinion.
Ford's lawyers will be spinning Hackland's Friday reversal as evidence his ruling is flawed. But legal experts agree the law was applied as it was supposed to be applied by the judge.
Should the law be changed? Some has been written about a recommendation to do just that coming out of the Mississauga inquiry into corruption charges.
Less has been said about the fact a review of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act took place back in the early 90s. A new law was actually given Royal Assent after province-wide consultations. But successive governments never got around to enacting it.
3. For Ford, the timing couldn't be worse.
A by-election would happen sometime in the early spring, right after council deals with its budget.
Last year the budget fight was a watershed moment for the Ford administration. It was the point at which things started to go down hill, and saw centrists in the mayor's centre-right coalition desert him over service cuts. The mayor's popularity numbers haven't rebounded since.
This time around the budget fight is shaping up to be even bloodier. Ford's not just taking on soccer moms concerned about rec user fees. He's signaled his intentions to go after the police budget and fire services. The numbers suggest layoffs in both for Ford to meet his financial targets.
Last time he tried to do cut fire services, the firefighters union hired Ford's former chief of staff, Nick Kouvalis, to make their case. The police chief, Bill Blair, stinging from council's decision to replace supporter Chin Lee with designated tough-guy budget chief Mike Del Grande on the Police Services Board, has said he won't support layoffs. Even more recently, the police's union threatened legal action against the City if their budget is slashed.
It's going to get ugly. And in a popularity contest with the men and women who keep Toronto safe, Ford's risking huge political blowback he can't afford, least of all with his seat on the line.
4. A decision on an audit of Ford's campaign donations is expected early in the new year.
As if the timing of a by-election isn't already complicated enough...
The masses may be willing to bite on the talking point that Rob was just trying to help the kids in his conflict of interest screw up, seeking donations from lobbyists doing business with the city for a good cause, as if that makes it okay. But it'll be more difficult to spin his taking campaign donations illegally from a holding company run by brother Doug if he's found to have contravened election finance laws.
The mayor has already tried to fend off the audit, dragging the matter through the courts to avoid a closer look at his election finances. When that started looking like he was protesting too much, he dropped his legal appeals. All of which is to say, it doesn't look like he has a strong case to make.
He's already hinted at a good faith defence, that if any mistakes were made in the filing of his campaign expenses, they were unintentional. Where have we heard that one before?
5. The conversation about Ford's political future has moved beyond his legal troubles.
Ford is not just an embarrassment. He's become a liability. The Economist has taken notice. Toronto's standing as a global city has taken a hit. The business classes have been called out, the Ford-friendly (mostly) Globe giving the very "elites" the mayor and his boys despise, that Richard Florida cat, space in its pages to make the case for a future Toronto without the bellicose mayor.
Even Fords friends on the right want him gone. Ford's damaged more than his rep. He's right up there with Harris when it comes to irreparable harm he's done to the Conservative cause in Toronto.
We've reached the tipping point. He's breached the public trust. And that's a firing offence. The only ones who seem to be in denial about that are his friends at the Sun trying to ramp up that anti-union sentiment that worked for Ford last time, and a couple of columnists at the Post whose boss happens to be pushing a Toronto casino.