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Council passes 2 motions to limit Mayor Rob Ford's powers

Mayor Rob Ford confronts councillors at city hall in Toronto on Nov. 13, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

In a precedent-setting move, Toronto city council has passed two motions that will limit Mayor Rob Ford’s powers.

In the first of two special sessions on Friday, councillors voted 39-3 in favour of a motion that limits Ford’s power on committees.

He can no longer remove the deputy mayor or fire the heads of committees, including members of the executive committee.

Ford said Friday he will challenge the ruling in court.

Responding to questions about a legal challenge that arose during the city hall debate, the city solicitor said that, while “one never knows what a judge will do…we feel confident in our ability to defend council’s decision in this circumstance.”

While council has had this power, it is first time it has taken such an action, Anna Kinastowski said.

Ford, his brother Coun. Doug Ford, and Coun. David Shiner were the only three who voted against the motion, which was proposed by councillors John Filion and Paul Ainslie.

Filion said it was done reluctantly and sadly but out of necessity.

“I wish there was some other route that had been followed,” he said, adding council gave the mayor advice which he didn’t chose. “It’s the only course of action left to us.”

The second motion, to strip Ford of emergency powers, passed 41-2. Deputy mayor Norm Kelly will now assume responsibility in the face of an emergency.

The mayor and his brother voted against the motion, which was also proposed by Filion.

During the debate, Doug Ford fought back against the proposal, saying that “folks here don’t have the moral authority to be doing…what they’re doing here today.”

He later added that there will be two courts that will be looking at Friday’s decisions: The legal court and the court of public opinion.

In contrast to his brother, Rob Ford said he had to defend himself, but understood why councillors were taking action to strip him of powers during an emergency.

“I’m not mad at anybody,” adding if another mayor did what he did, he would support councillors.

Both motions will remain in effect for the rest of Ford’s term.

Ford’s lawyer told The Canadian Press after Friday’s votes he had received no instructions to actually start litigation but would do so if instructed.

However, George Rust-D’Eye, a municipal lawyer retained by the mayor, did offer some clarification as to the grounds on which Ford could mount a court challenge.

Council could not act on “speculation or irrelevant allegations” and its motions could be seen “as an attempt to punish (Ford) for alleged personal conduct, or as a symbolic statement of council’s intent to be doing something in response to it,” Rust-D’eye said.

“There is no evidence before the council suggesting that the mayor has failed to exercise or abused his powers, or been unwilling or unable to fulfil them.”

The proposals come a day after Ford used graphic language on live TV and admitted he may have driven drunk. In the past weeks, he has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, refused to speak to Toronto police about an ongoing investigation, and vowed to stay in office.

Ford’s locker room vulgarity also drew wide condemnation from fellow councillors, who literally turned their backs when he spoke during Thursday’s various debates. But his scandal has attracted a swarm of media – both international and local at city hall.

And Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she could intervene if council made it clear it could not function as a result of the Ford scandal, but would consult opposition parties before doing so.

The crush of media clamouring for news of Ford prompted city staff to declare city hall unsafe for children on Thursday.

School tours next Monday and Tuesday will be going to the Toronto Archives instead, a spokeswoman said.

A third motion to be debated on Monday would see Ford’s office essentially moved to the control of the deputy mayor.

With files from The Canadian Press