November 6th 2013
When I was first elected to Toronto City Council three years ago, I knew city hall would be an interesting place to work. That now seems like a remarkable understatement.
Like many new councillors, I was excited to get to work on priorities such as improving transit, fighting gridlock, child care, tenants’ rights, providing better service to residents and ensuring tax dollars were spent wisely. I was also inspired by issues in my own community like traffic safety, farmers markets and building playgrounds. I never would’ve imagined that I’d eventually be responding to hundreds of constituents’ emails about “crack cocaine.”
Working at city hall these days in the midst of the Mayor Rob Ford scandal is like trying to get work done with a noisy jack hammer drilling beside you into a seemingly bottomless hole.
When the mayor surprised everyone this week by finally admitting he had indeed smoked crack cocaine (in the face of new evidence expected to be released soon), I was in my office working with a group of residents concerned about a development proposal.
My phone started ringing. Canadian and international media were seeking comment (I decided to try and stay focused on my work). About an hour later, as I walked the hallways of city hall’s second floor where the mayor’s and councillors’ offices are, the sound of TVs airing news channels was ubiquitous. Almost everyone seemed to be anxiously awaiting the next bombshell.
And as word spread quickly that the mayor would be making yet another announcement, a large crowd of reporters and onlookers gathered in front of his office to witness a historic and surreal spectacle.
We all watched. The whole city watched.
It turned out that Mayor Ford had indeed been lying to Torontonians for months, if not longer. And he and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, had unfairly and maliciously attacked anyone who dared to raise questions.
In response to these very sad and unprecedented revelations, many councillors are now discussing (and admittedly struggling over) how best to hold the mayor to account while ensuring the business of the city gets done.
While I’ve received many emails from residents demanding the mayor be removed, there’s no legislation that allows council to fire him. The mayor can be disqualified from office only if he is no longer a Canadian citizen or a resident of Toronto, is caught (and ultimately convicted) of cheating on his election finances or of not declaring a conflict of interest, if he misses three consecutive city council meetings or is found guilty of an indictable offence.
Also, there’s a matter of fairness that must be considered. Very few of us haven’t made mistakes in life we regret. But the severity of the mayor’s irresponsible and deceitful behaviour, along with the hurtful impact it’s had on Toronto, surely merits something more than a collective sigh of despair.
Moreover, when asked about our lives, most of us respond truthfully. The mayor decided to lie to his constituents. I’d be willing to bet some people would have offered him a second chance if he had been honest, taken some time out to really deal with his problems and come back demonstrating he had learned from his mistakes.
Some residents, albeit a minority, have even suggested that because the mayor has apologized (for some things), council should simply be accepting and move on. Let bygones be bygones. However, I don’t believe that would be good enough for most Torontonians. While Mayor Ford did apologize for smoking crack, he still did recently smoked crack and quite possibly in the presence of drug dealers. In addition, he didn’t explain his actions (other than “being in a drunken stupor”), his documented association with criminals or allegations that he made racist and homophobic slurs in the now infamous crack video.
While council doesn’t have the ability to remove Mayor Ford from office, Rob Ford does. He should resign, seek help and put residents before himself. That would be leadership. If he doesn’t, council will certainly do what it can to hold him to account and prevent him from doing any further damage to our city.
Ultimately, I just want to focus on the job I was elected to do. And I believe most councillors of every political stripe want the same. But in the face of Rob Ford’s ongoing circus of folly, shameful conduct, distraction and deceit, it has become extraordinarily difficult to proceed with the business of running this great city.
It’s tragic this mayor allowed the trust he was given by Torontonians to go up in smoke.
Josh Matlow is Toronto City Councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
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