To meet Ford, or to spurn him? Wynne loses either way.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly (centre) meets with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (r) - Photo: Office of the Premier

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne refuses to meet with the elected mayor of the province’s largest city. Is she right? Absolutely not. And, yes.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford asked Tuesday for an urgent meeting with Premier Wynne to discuss financial support to the city after a devastating ice storm that left the municipality with a $106-million bill it can’t afford to pay. This, on top of a crippling $65-million tab from a July flood that devastated parts of the city. Ford made the request after being crucified by City Council for not having reached out to the premier during the ice storm or its immediate aftermath.

Wynne promptly refused the meeting. She says she doesn’t have time to meet everybody and, instead, chooses to meet with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly because Toronto city council appointed him, not Ford, as their point man. She’s dead wrong.

Rob Ford says the reason Wynne won’t meet with him is because she’s playing politics after he supported former city councillor and deputy mayor Doug Holyday’s successful bid to win a seat in the provincial legislature for the opposition Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. He’s dead wrong.

As much as it shocks me to say this, Toronto councillor Shelley Carroll is right. She Tweeted: “It’s the crack, Rob.”

The premier can meet, or not meet, with whomever she chooses. But, it’s her decision. She owns the consequences, good or bad, like it or not.

I feel for her, though, because it’s pretty much a no-win situation.

She must meet with Ford…

The law is against Wynne when she chooses Kelly as council’s representative to her government. While city council may prefer Norm Kelly as its “point person” in dealings with the province, as Wynne attests, it has no legal authority to appoint him such.

The City of Toronto Act, a provincial law, clearly stipulates that the mayor is the “head of council” and “chief executive officer” of the city, responsible to represent “the City both within and outside the City, and promote the City locally, nationally and internationally.” Council can’t change that. Only the provincial legislature, where Wynne does not command a majority of seats, can do that. So, when she suggests that Deputy Mayor Kelly is the lawfully appointed point-person for Toronto City Council, that’s simply untrue.

As much as it shocks me to say this, Toronto councillor Shelley Carroll is right.  She Tweeted: “It’s the crack, Rob.”

Of course, Premier Wynne could probably go to the legislature and cobble together enough support from the New Democrats to change the law. But, she hasn’t done that. And, she won’t. Politically, it’s a non-starter.

Consider: Rob Ford won his job with 383,501 votes. Kathleen Wynne was re-elected in 2011 with just 24,444 votes as the Member of Provincial Parliament for Don Valley West. In Wynne’s own riding, 18,187 of her constituents voted for Ford as mayor in 2010.

If just 20 per cent of those who voted for Ford in 2010 still support him, that’s 76,700 voters city-wide. That’s nothing to sneeze at if you’re a premier trying to decide when to call the next provincial election. Especially, if you’re a premier, who has not yet been tested in a general election, considering legislation to effectively unseat a popularly elected mayor.

She cannot meet with Ford…

Ford did a reasonably good job during the Ice Storm and its aftermath. But, he’s unpredictable. He’s admitted to abusing alcohol, using crack cocaine and associating with known criminals. He says he’s stopped. But, he’s made no verifiable efforts to permanently change his behaviour. So, who knows how long Dr. Jekyll will remain mayor — or if Mr. Hyde may reappear.

Wynne can’t possibly meet with Ford. The Liberal Party’s core supporters would never forgive her for “legitimizing” an admitted crack using, right wing conservative mayor who has enraged them so.

Ford has very little left to lose by making this a public issue. He relishes the underdog role and uses it to rally his base. I suspect he’s loving this. Relieved of most of his civic responsibilities, he’s occupying his time by campaigning for re-election and torturing the premier. He’s got her over a barrel, and he knows it.

Premier Wynne, on the other hand, has nothing to gain in this dispute. She’d love to dodge it, but Ford won’t let her. She can’t be seen to reinforce Ford’s misbehaviour by ignoring it and meeting with him. But, she can’t stand up and publicly disenfranchise a democratically elected civic leader, especially one whose electoral mandate dwarfs hers 15 times over.

Advantage: Ford

She can’t pretend he’s no longer the lawful office holder, and she can’t pretend it was council’s decision. She has to make the choice. It’s hers to make. Either way, she loses. It’s a real pickle.


This post was also published on Huffington Post 15 Jan 2014.