TORONTO — A subdued but still defiant Mayor Rob Ford blamed a left-wing conspiracy for his court-ordered ouster Monday, pledging to fight “tooth and nail” against a possibly unprecedented ruling that booted him from office for violating conflict of interest rules.
In fact, the Toronto mayor said, if he loses in the courts, he would go straight to the court of public opinion.
“I’m a fighter. If there’s a byelection, my name will be the first one on the ballot,” Ford told a crush of journalists shortly after the judicial ruling.
“This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here, and they’ll do anything in their power to (do that).”
The legal action was launched by businessman Paul Magder, who argued the larger-than-life mayor violated the rules when he took part in a council vote over repayment of $3,150 in donations he had solicited for his private football foundation using official city letterhead.
In a damning 24-page decision, Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland slammed Ford for “wilful blindness” that could not be excused as a simple slip-up, especially from someone in his leadership role.
“It is difficult to accept an error-in-judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the ’code of conduct’,” Hackland said in his ruling.
“I declare the seat of the respondent Robert Ford on Toronto city council vacant.”
Hackland could have barred Ford from running again for seven years, but instead opted to disqualify him for the “current term.”
It was not immediately clear whether that meant Ford’s term ended with his ouster, meaning he would be free to run in a possible byelection, although Ruby was adamant the judge had precluded him from doing so.
Lawyer John Mascarin, a municipal law expert, called the ruling ambiguous but said he believed Hackland “clearly” meant to bar Ford from running for office until the current council term is over in 2014.Both parties could write the judge to seek clarification, said Mascarin, who called the ruling “unprecedented.”
The judge did put his declaration on hold for 14 days to give the city time to deal with the situation.
While Ford said supportive calls had been coming in to his office “fast and furious,” city resident Ken Garnum carried a sign outside city hall reading “Worst Mayor Ever:Goodbye.”
Garnum said he was “thrilled” at the ruling.
“I don’t think he’s evil,” he said. “He just can’t tell the difference between right and wrong.”
Magder and his lawyer, Clayton Ruby, were tempered in declaring victory.
“We as citizens are responsible for each other, and that means standing up and doing what is right,” Magder said.
“This is a sad day for Torontonians. It’s sad because we spent so much time and money on this matter instead of nurturing our city.”
Ruby said he was unaware of any other big city mayor getting the boot in such a way.
He stressed the case was not about Ford trying to benefit personally or acting dishonestly, but about preserving the integrity of municipal government.
“It is tragic that the elected mayor of a great city should bring himself to this: Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford,” Ruby said.
“When you break the rules there’s a price to pay. It’s important for the courts to assert that nobody is above the law, Rob Ford included.”
Regardless of how the ouster plays out, councillors said the city would continue to function.
“It will put a crink in things, but I don’t think it will stop the business of city council,” Coun. Joe Mihevc said. “The city is bigger than any elected official.”
In 2010, Ford used his staff to help send out donation requests for his football fund and mail them out to donors, who had officially lobbied the city government. The mayor repeatedly ignored demands from the city’s integrity commissioner to repay the money.
When council took up the integrity commissioner’s order, Ford spoke and voted against the order despite having a financial interest in the matter, a violation of Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, Hackland ruled.
Ford has 30 days to appeal to Divisional Court.
“Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some,” said Ford, who kicked off a Christmas toy drive later on Monday.
“You’ve just got to roll with punches; you’ve got to have the skin on you like an alligator.”
As if to prove that point, Ford launched a Christmas toy drive an hour later, while his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, called for supporters to rally behind the mayor at a football match on Tuesday.
Rob MacDermid, a political science professor at York University, said it should not have been up to Magder to tackle Ford.
“It’s difficult to bring actions against politicians — it falls to a citizen,” MacDermid said. “There has to be a better way.”
Ford is the third big city mayor to find himself in serious trouble in recent weeks.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay resigned earlier this month in the midst of a corruption scandal, while Joe Fontana, mayor of London, Ont., faces criminal charges for allegedly using federal money for personal gain. Both have denied the allegations.