The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leaves to attend an event hours after being ordered out of office by a judge.

At this morning’s meeting of Toronto City Council, solicitor Anna Kinastowski confirmed that, under her interpretation of yesterday’s ruling, Ford would be barred from running in a potential by-election for mayor. This means that Ford would have to step down until 2014.

Ford could still challenge that interpretation in court. But if it stands, Ford’s most sensible move might be standing down from further legal challenges and focusing his energies on a possible 2014 electoral bid.

The chips are stacked against the mayor.

Shortly after Mayor Rob Ford was told his seat as Mayor of Toronto would be declared vacant, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam—herself a likely someday mayoral candidate—posed a pretty good query on Twitter:

Strange as it might sound, that really is the big question going forward. After a relatively effective first few months in the mayor’s chair, Ford hit a brick wall heading into his first real budget cycle. Since then, he’s seemed mostly sullen and annoyed by the trappings of the job he was elected to do. He’s had trouble wrangling his key issues with would-be council allies. He’s focused too much on minor things like plastic bags, to his own peril. And he’s been forced to navigate a string of personal gaffes, about everything from his driving habits to whether he chartered a TTC bus to pick up his football team.

And the legal stuff hasn’t helped. Juggling multiple court cases this fall—in addition to coaching a top-ranked high school football team—has left precious little time to actually talk about policy initiatives. The mayor’s office has been kicking around ideas on a plan to improve what Ford calls “customer service” across the city since day one of the administration, but there hasn’t been much action on the item.

There hasn’t been much action, period.

And here’s the thing: If Ford tries to cling to his job now that a judge has ordered him out of office and the solicitor says he can’t come back until 2014, things are only going to get worse. A stay from the divisional court and an appeals process will only make this mayor the lamest of lame ducks. Concerns that he might be permanently ousted at any moment means it’ll be difficult for his staff to build partnerships and coalitions. Only hours after the judge’s verdict, we started to see allies jump ship. City Hall needs stability to function on any level, and this mayor can’t offer it with this court case hanging over his head.

Which brings us back to Wong-Tam’s question: Is this really the road Rob Ford wants to travel on?

I didn’t want this to happen. I still maintain that Toronto would have been better off had Ford continued as mayor until the end of this term in 2014. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is senselessly narrow. I’ll never be convinced that Ford’s offence—voting to save himself from repaying some money he solicited as charitable donations—warrants essentially overturning the results of a fair election. This penalty was too harsh. For his part, Justice Charles Hackland seems to agree. In his 24-page decision, he points to a recommendation that “lesser sanctions” be made available under future revisions to the Act.

But I also don’t have any sympathy for Ford. He had a good half-dozen opportunities to avoid this outcome. His path to this point was marked with numerous sign posts warning him to turn back. He could have simply repaid the money he raised improperly in the first place. He could have gotten advice and excused himself from the council session that discussed his refusal to pay back the money. He could have taken a bit of responsibility for learning about the laws that govern his very important job.

He could have listened.

But he didn’t. And now Toronto is left staring at a potential future rife with political instability, where the issues that matter will end up overshadowed by what Coun. Josh Matlow calls the “Rob Ford reality show.” And for what—so the mayor can hold onto a job he hasn’t really appeared to enjoy lately? A job that he isn’t really all that suited for?

In his decision yesterday, Justice Hackland described Ford as having a “willful blindness” when it comes to his obligations and responsibilities. As Ford prepares to make his next move, I’d suggest that this mayor open his eyes—and consider whether it might be time to step aside for good.

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