To avoid crisis, Council must rally behind Deputy Mayor to continue Ford’s mandate

Mayor Ford and Deputy Mayor Kelly in Council
Andrew Francis Wallis © Toronto Star

While Mayor Rob Ford remains in his office,
On Monday, Toronto City Council completed its three-part act of “cashiering” Mayor Rob Ford.  Like the ancient military tradition of publicly stripping disgraced officers of their medals, sword, rank insignia and other symbols of status and authority, council systematically removed Ford’s powers and privileges in a series of humiliating votes.  At the end of this spectacle, Ford remains a mayor in name only and a man very much still in crisis.

While I am sympathetic to Ford’s self-admitted personal struggles, I am also certain he alone is responsible for them.  Ford himself has painstakingly baked every brick ever thrown at him, whether fairly or otherwise.

Let’s be clear:  there is no crisis in Toronto.  But, there are signs this could change if City Hall doesn’t take some crucial next steps very soon.

The most telling warning is contained in a recent Bloomberg news report that Toronto’s cost of borrowing has jumped 4 basis points (0.04 per cent) since council urged Ford to take a leave of absence last week.  This rate often fluctuates, but this blip is an indicator that markets are watching Toronto.

Markets are not reacting to Ford’s humiliation by late night comics, but to concerns the Toronto government may stop functioning properly or unexpectedly change course.  Markets like stability.

No CEO, in any boardroom, watched Jimmy Kimmel or Jon Stewart and said, “let’s reconsider our investment in Toronto.”  However, if there is any question about who’s in charge in Toronto, or which direction the city is headed, investors may begin to question Toronto’s political stability.  Instability means risk, risk means higher costs and higher costs means “let’s look elsewhere.”

Let’s be clear:  there is no crisis in Toronto.  But, this could change if City Hall sees Ford’s fall as a reason to make major policy changes.

Again, there is no one to blame for this but Ford.  He created this mess.  Council has done its best to contain it.  One can argue Council didn’t need to go as far as it did, but no one can deny something needed to be done.  While some councillors may have privately relished the bitter taste of schadenfreude, Council acted to prevent the mayor’s personal crisis from becoming a civic one.  But, their work is not done.

Deputy Mayor Kelly and City Council must now reassure the world there will be no sudden changes.  Kelly should continue to point out, as he has always done, that he’s the deputy mayor, not the mayor.  But, he should begin to act, speak and look like a mayor.

Before week’s end, Kelly should speak publicly, perhaps in the City Council Member’s Lounge, from a script, with a podium and in front of the City of Toronto emblazoned backdrop.  Anyone watching should see a calm, reasonable leader who’s in charge and who has the support of City Council and staff.

He should reassure Toronto, and the world, the business of the city continues unaffected.  He should point out Rob Ford was elected with a strong mandate to focus on rebuilding the city’s fiscal foundation and he should commit to following the same course.  After all, the mandate remains, even if the mayor does not.  Only another election can change it.

Councillors of all stripes should support Kelly in this.  They should agree, there will be no sudden changes in direction.  Those who supported the administration’s mandate before, should continue to support it.  Those who opposed it, will likely continue to do so.

The administration should continue to target a tax rate change below inflation, but without the bellicose rhetoric that often polarized the discussion.  With a deft political touch and a bit of subtlety that was lacking before, it is entirely possible to lead a fiscally sound government while protecting Toronto’s cherished services.

Kelly should reassure the world Toronto will continue to welcome business investment and encourage more employers to expand here; continue to push for rapid transit across the city, especially in Scarborough and move forward with long-term plans to reduce gridlock; and remain committed to keeping Toronto affordable for individuals, families and businesses.

Residents, visitors, businesses and investors need to know Kelly is leading Toronto and that the plan hasn’t changed.  There is no crisis.

An edited version of this column was published in the Toronto Star on Nov. 20, 2013