Scandal-plagued Toronto mayor Rob Ford was stripped of the last of his meaningful powers after a heated city council debate in which he argued with members of the public, charged hecklers and knocked down a councillor.
Mr Ford called the move a “coup d’etat” and vowed an “outright war” in the next election.
“What’s happening here today is not a democratic process, it’s a dictatorship process,” the 44-year-old mayor declared.
The council voted overwhelmingly in favour of slashing Mr Ford’s office budget by 60% and allowing his staff to move to the deputy mayor, who now takes on many of the mayor’s former powers.
Mr Ford now effectively has no legislative power and no longer chairs the executive committee, although he retains his title and ability to represent Toronto at official functions.
The debate became raucous after Mr Ford paced around the council chamber and traded barbs with the public. The speaker asked security to clear the gallery and a recess was called, but not before Mr Ford barreled towards his detractors, mowing into councillor Pam McConnell.
Another councillor asked Mr Ford to apologise and Mr Ford said he was rushing to the defence of his brother, councillor Doug Ford, and accidentally knocked Ms McConnell down.
“I picked her up,” he said. “I ran around because I thought my brother was getting into an altercation.”
Visibly shaken, Ms McConnell, a petite woman in her 60s, said she never expected the chaos that broke out. “This is the seat of democracy. It is not a football field. I just wasn’t ready. Fortunately, the mayor’s staff was in front. They stopped me from hitting my head against the wall. I just need to sit down,” she said.
The motion to strip Mr Ford of his powers was revised from a tougher version to ward off potential legal challenges by letting him keep his title and represent the city at official functions. The city’s lawyer said Mr Ford was not reduced to being “mayor in name only”.
“Obviously I cannot do the job with eight people in the office with a quarter of the former mayor’s budget,” Mr Ford said.
The council does not have the authority to remove him from office unless he is convicted of a crime. It is pursuing the strongest recourse available after recent revelations of Mr Ford smoking crack cocaine and his repeated outbursts of erratic behaviour.
“Mayor Ford has had many choices. ... Would he change his behaviour? Would he step aside and seek help?” said councilor John Filion. “The mayor unfortunately has chosen the path of denial. Now it’s time to take away the keys.
“The new allegations pile up faster than the old ones can be dealt with. If many Torontonians are initially fascinated by the drama, they are now fed up with it. They want it to end.”
But far from being chastened, Mr Ford has vowed to take the council to court and insists he will seek re-election next year. “It’s a coup d’etat – that’s all this is,” he said as he arrived at City Hall yesterday.
He earlier claimed on a radio station that councillors were against his agenda to save taxpayers money. “If they want me out, they should just call a snap election,” he said.
But the council rejected a motion proposing such an election and also refused to give Mr Ford another month to get an expert medical opinion on whether he was capable of carrying out his duties.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former Ford ally, said it was about his conduct. “This is about embarrassing the city, his involvement with gangs, his involvement with crack cocaine. This is about his admission that he gets behind the wheel while drinking,” he said.
“He’s the worst spokesman for the city of Toronto right now.”
Toronto, a city of 2.7 million people, has been abuzz with the Ford melodrama since May, when news outlets reported that he had been caught on video smoking crack.
Recently-released court documents show Mr Ford became the subject of a police investigation after those reports surfaced. Mr Ford, who denied there was any incriminating video, now acknowledges the reports were accurate.
In interviews with police, former Ford staffers have made further accusations, saying the mayor drank heavily, sometimes drove while intoxicated and pressured a female staffer to engage in oral sex.
Last Thursday, Mr Ford spouted an obscenity on live television while denying the sex claim, saying he was “happily married” and using crude language to assert that he enjoyed enough oral sex at home.
Last week, after admitting to excessive drinking and buying illegal drugs, he disclosed that he was seeking medical help. But he and his family insist he is not an addict and does not need rehab.
Prime minister Stephen Harper – like Mr Ford, a Conservative – was due in Toronto yesterday to meet area parliament members from his party.Mr Harper has been a guest at an annual summer barbecue hosted by Mr Ford and his family, but has had little to say in public about the mayor’s troubles.