Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No way to force mayor from office: province

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TORONTO -- The country's largest city descended into embarrassing new political turmoil Thursday with police essentially confirming the existence of a video allegedly appearing to show Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.

The surprise announcement by Chief Bill Blair, which followed the morning arrest of Ford's friend on extortion charges related to the video, prompted calls for the mayor to resign.

"The mayor has a totally unique approach to these personal crises of any politician we've ever seen," said Coun. Shelley Carroll. "(But) we're now at a juncture where nothing he can do can make this go away."

Ford shoved photographers out of the way and yelled "Get off my property!" as he left his home without commenting for what aides said was to be a routine day at city hall.

Speaking later in the day, a far more subdued Ford said he was unable to defend himself because the matter is before the courts. "I have no reason to resign," Ford said. "I'm going to be out doing what the people elected me to do."

Despite the pressure on Ford, municipal law makes no provision for his forced removal from office unless he's convicted and jailed for a criminal offence.

"There's nothing we can do at this point," Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said.

Like others, including Blair who expressed disappointment at the turn of events, Jeffrey said she was "saddened" by them, but refused to say whether Ford should step down.

Some branded Ford an embarrassment, others said he owed the city an explanation.

"This cannot keep dragging out," Coun. James Pasternak said. "It is very disconcerting that the mayor of Canada's largest city is under police surveillance."

Some MPs weighed in, but only one government member -- Brampton's Parm Gill -- was willing to express support for the embattled mayor, a right-wing champion who's long been considered an ally of the federal Conservatives.

"Rob Ford is a great mayor," said Gill, parliamentary secretary to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. "I support him. I think he's doing a wonderful job, and I know the people of Toronto are very happy with the way he's running the city and look forward to working with him."

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who represents the downtown Toronto riding of St. Paul's, had a decidedly different take on the stunning allegations.

Bennett urged Ford to "set an example" by owning up to any possible dependency problem.

"We've all had friends who get into trouble," she said. "What real friends would do is pick up the phone and tell the mayor to go and get some help."

The NDP's Andrew Cash, meanwhile, noted the chummy relationship Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have enjoyed with Ford during the past few years.

"Clearly the prime minister and the minister of finance have been on the record being very close to the mayor of Toronto and I think that Conservatives need to answer questions," said Cash, who represents the Toronto riding of Davenport.

Harper and Ford posed for photos together just a few weeks ago, Cash noted, when there were "already allegations swirling around the mayor at that time, but the prime minister went ahead with that."

"We've been raising questions in the House of Commons about the judgment of this government and the leadership of the Conservatives... . Clearly my constituents in Toronto are concerned about these new allegations and revelations."

Meanwhile, a renowned lawyer who failed to have Ford ousted from office accused Toronto police of deliberately giving the embattled mayor a pass on his alleged drug use and ties to accused and convicted traffickers.

"The police have either ignored or overlooked all the evidence against Clayton Ford," Ruby told The Canadian Press. "I've never seen such a botched investigation, and I've seen thousands."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2013 A8

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