The Divisional Court has ruled. Mayor Rob Ford will keep his job.
And for those of us most concerned with the long-term direction and health of Toronto, that might actually be good news.
Call me naive, but I’ve always hoped that Toronto’s weird, destructive fascination with Rob Ford would wrap up with a clear decision at the ballot box. A fair campaign to beat Ford in 2014 has the potential to heal some of the suburban-versus-urban divisiveness that has dominated political discourse since those “Respect for Taxpayers” banners unfurled in 2010. It’d work as an opportunity for this city to come together and acknowledge that we do have problems greater than councillor expense accounts and a three-kilometre stretch of road with bike lanes on it.
The next election is an opportunity do better. To move forward. To figure out exactly what we want this city to be.
And so, even with solid and well-reasoned legal arguments behind them, I was never a huge fan of citizen Paul Magder and lawyer Clayton Ruby’s push to remove the mayor from office prior to the end of his term in 2014. It put the opportunity represented by 2014 in jeopardy. Had things gone the other way for Ford — had he been removed from office on a judicial decree — it could have pushed him toward a kind of political martyrdom. Instead of going down as the politician whose ideas didn’t work for Toronto, he’d leave office as the fiscally-sensible mayor who so enraged his progressive detractors that they ran him out of town on a rail.
I do take issue with a lot of the substance of the Divisional Court ruling. The notion that the whole case is invalid because council never had the authority to leverage a financial penalty against Ford doesn’t really hold up. Ford and his staff had ample opportunity to challenge the order on those grounds, but never bothered. And the idea that the city doesn’t have the broad authority to levy these kinds of orders is troubling. There’s implications stemming from today’s decision that demand some follow-up. (Though maybe not to the Supreme Court.)
But throw all that aside, and there’s this: kicking the mayor out now wouldn’t have done much to make Toronto any better. It would have been confusing and costly and hugely distracting from issues that actually matter to the average person in Toronto. Realistically, this city only has 11 months of relative peace before the next election campaign heats up. And progressives need to remember that Ford’s ability to push through the most controversial parts of his agenda has already been severely curtailed. He may be able to win a few votes on council these days, but he can’t win them all. Not even close.
Meanwhile, the case for a Ford defeat in the 2014 municipal election looks strong. His approval ratings have been in the tank for more than a year, and he’s consistently polled behind virtually every possible opponent in hypothetical one-versus-one mayoral races. Barring a complete turnaround in public support, there is no data that supports the idea that Ford would be a heavy favourite to win reelection. With that, there’s a real chance for 2014 to be a turning point election — one that sees Ford-brand politics trumped by something better.
So let’s go forward, opponents and detractors alike. There’s a time and date set to determine the rightful future of our city. It wasn’t today.