On Monday morning at 10 a.m., Justice Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court will fax his decision in Rob Ford’s conflict-of-interest hearing to the lawyers of the parties involved. Shortly after that, we will all know the results. (Update, November 26, 11 a.m.: the verdict is in—Ford is out.) That decision will resolve the case, but it could just be the beginning of another chaotic, unpredictable process.
I have looked closely at the law, and I sat through the entirety of the hearing into the matter, and I have to say that none of the possible results would surprise me—I think the odds here are like a coin toss. Here are some of the possible outcomes:
1. FORD FOUND NOT GUILTY, STAYS IN OFFICE
It’s possible that the judge will find that the mayor did not violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, and he will be found not guilty. Or that he violated the Conflict of Interest Act through a good-faith error in judgement, or that the amount in question is too small to be of consequence. This finding would end the matter. Then, we’d just be left waiting for the report from the auditors looking into his election financing (who could also, in a roundabout process, remove him from office) and the judgement of the judge in his just-concluded $6 million libel trial. And, of course, the results of the Don Bosco football team’s Metro Bowl game on Tuesday.
2. FORD FOUND GUILTY, REMOVED FROM OFFICE
If the judge finds Ford guilty of breaking the Conflict of Interest Act, Ford will be immediately removed from office. There is no other punishment that is possible—the judge has no discretion to administer a lesser penalty, according to the law. My understanding is that, if there are grounds for appeal, Ford will still be removed pending the appeal (UPDATE: unless he applies for a stay of the decision pending appeal to the Divisional Court, whose ruling is final and not subject to further appeal). The judge then has one bit of sentencing discretion: he can allow Ford to run again for mayor as soon as the next election. or he could bar him from running for office for up to seven years.
That’s where things would get fun. Or a lot less fun, depending on your point of view. If Ford is removed from office, whether or not he’s allowed to run again, the decision about what to do next will be in city council’s hands. They would have 60 days to consider their options:
a) Appoint someone to the vacant mayor’s chair for the remainder of the term
Council can appoint anyone—not necessarily a sitting councillor—to serve as mayor until the 2014 election. It’s not clear that city council will be able to agree on who they would appoint if they decided to go this route.
They could appoint a sitting councillor: On the one hand, some councillors would be wary of taking the removal of Ford from office as a chance to radically change ideological directions. Just because the mayor who won the election is found to be ineligible to serve because he broke the law, it doesn’t mean that the will of the voters about the direction of the city as expressed in the last election is voided.
For this reason, appointing a prominent Ford opponent—Adam Vaughan, Shelley Carroll, Karen Stintz—may be a politically untenable move. At the same time, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the majority of council who voted together against the mayor on things like the budget and the TTC construction plans to agree to appoint someone like Frances Nunziata, Doug Holyday, or—gasp—Doug Ford to serve as mayor, since they cannot agree with those people about the colour of the sky, never mind vote affirmatively to follow their lead on the direction of the city. So if a majority of council was concerned that they appoint someone at least passably Ford-friendly, they’d then face an impossible decision, since anyone they might appoint from Team Ford would be someone they think is damaging to the city as mayor.
But even taking the concern about appearances out of the equation, it’s not clear council could agree on a candidate to serve. Council isn’t really made up of two or even three competing teams who act together like political parties. It seems, right now, to be more like five or even six teams, and the alliances between the cliques shift on every vote. Vaughan, Carroll, Giorgio Mammoliti, Michael Thompson, and, perhaps, Stintz—maybe even others—all have mayoral ambitions of their own. And those ambitions—as well as calculations about advantage in the future, in 2014 and then in 2018—would start to even further deteriorate the alliances that do exist.
It is possible that council would demand a promise from any potential appointee that they not run for mayor in 2014, making them a caretaker. In that case, those who want to be mayor for real would not even put their names forward. Could a majority of council agree on a caretaker? John Parker? Raymond Cho? It’s possible, though it is hard to imagine, because any name you raise brings with it its own baggage.
Or they could appoint an outsider: Council would also have the option of appointing someone who is not a sitting councillor. Here, the same problems, ideologically and otherwise, would seem to apply. You might expect council—given the mayoral ambitions of the various parties and everything else—to choose someone who has no long-term ambition to be mayor, and who knows the politics of the city intimately so they could step in and govern without taking a year to get acclimatized to the way business is done in the clamshell. That’s a short list of people.
Among former mayors, only David Crombie would seem to have consensus potential. But he’s been out of the game for a long, long time.
The only other possible name that springs to mind is John Tory. Council’s left doesn’t like him at all—because he is genuinely an opponent of theirs—but he was Ford’s choice for mayor last time, and seems to have a lot of centre and even centre-left support now that he’s not a candidate for anything. Tory appears to have ruled out a return to politics, but you have to wonder if the city being thrown into crisis by the removal of a mayor could twist his arm to take the job for 20 months or so until the 2014 election. It seems like he’d have a hard time saying no. But, on the other hand, would he really quit his prominent and enjoyable gigs in the private and philanthropic sectors for a temp job? It might be a hard sell, even in the not-entirely-certain event that council could agree to appoint him.
b) Hold an immediate election to fill the job until 2014
Council could also choose to hold an election right away. In that case, the election campaign would be 45 days long—which likely puts an election date in mid-March. Now, whether Ford is allowed to run again would be a big factor in council’s decision to hold the election right away, and possibly a bigger factor in who decides to run for the vacant chair. Whether Shelley Carroll or Adam Vaughan would want to run now or keep their powder dry until 2014 would probably depend on whether Ford’s running—my sense is that both of them would prefer a longer lead time to mount a campaign against Ford if he is going to run. And Carroll, in particular, appears to need the time between now and 2014 to build the necessary name recognition to carry the ballot.
One person who doesn’t have that problem is Olivia Chow. Indeed, if Chow does actually want to be mayor (and my guess is she does) then the removal of Ford and a snap-short campaign might be the perfect alignment of the stars for her.
What many observers think is that Chow would suffer from a long campaign: she doesn’t do well speaking off the cuff, and a heavy debate schedule would give her lots of chances to look snippy or to make verbal errors. Moreover, in a year-long campaign with 44 council races running concurrently, the campaigns of local councillors running for re-election could lend support to mayoral candidates they endorse (sharing canvas lists and coordinating sign campaigns, for example)—which would favour current councillors running for mayor who have built up alliances with their colleagues. A long campaign will always favour underdogs, if for no other reason than the time involved allows them to build an organization, raise funds, define themselves, and become a recognizable possibility to the voters.
Chow faces none of those problems in a 45-day campaign. And here’s what she does have at the starting gate: a commanding lead in the polls, huge name recognition, a house she could use to secure a line of credit for more than a million dollars, and the likely campaign support of Jack Layton’s national and local organizations. More than any other candidate—with the exception of John Tory and the possible exception of Rob or Doug Ford—she would start the race a few metres from the finish line.
That calculation makes Carroll and Vaughan’s math interesting: if Chow runs now and wins, they are unlikely to run against her when she’s an incumbent in 2014. Which means if they really want the job, it will be go time right away, even if they face long odds, unless they are prepared to wait six or even 10 years to run. One expects this might be too long for Carroll to wait, and maybe too long for Vaughan, too. But if they all run, they change the prospects for Chow, too, since the more progressive-identified names are on the ballot, the stronger Ford or another right-wing candidate looks.
And what about the right wing? Well, I already discussed John Tory, and the same reservations about running yet again for elected office would likely apply here. Except even more so, since he’d have to face the electorate, and the possibility of extending his truly stunning losing streak—and disrupting the comfortable Citizen John life he’s built since leaving politics.
But see I also mentioned Doug Ford a minute ago: if his brother is barred from running, Doug could take up the Ford Nation mantle and run in his place. My sense is that he’d get crushed, since he has none of the political instincts or everyman appeal of Rob, but who knows?
If Rob isn’t running, it’s possible Karen Stintz—as much as she’s denied any ambitions until now—could get in the race. She’s earned a lot of centre-right (and even centre-left) cred this year and, like Chow, she might benefit from a short campaign where the brand and goodwill she’s built up wouldn’t have to withstand the inevitable wearing down of a long campaign.
And if neither Rob nor Doug is running, you look at one or more of Michael Thompson, Mammoliti, and the rest of the gang to get involved too.
If Rob Ford is removed, no one really knows what happens next. But it’s a safe bet he’ll show up to coach in the Metro Bowl on Tuesday no matter what happens.
PHOTO: RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR