TORONTO -- An unprecedented showdown between scandal-riven Mayor Rob Ford and city council could be destined for the courts after councillors voted Friday to neuter his powers. The legal process could yet thwart the councillors' move.
Unable to oust him from office, council instead overwhelmingly passed two motions, with a third to come Monday, that would all but reduce Ford's role to ribbon-cutting.
A much subdued Ford, in contrast to his previously combative style, said he was left with no choice but to turn to the courts.
"This is going to be precedent-setting," Ford said in a shaky voice in one of the debates. "If we move ahead with this, then obviously if someone else steps out of line like I have, this is going to affect councillors and the mayor for years to come."
Ford's lawyer told The Canadian Press after Friday's votes he had received no instructions to start litigation but would do so if instructed.
'If we move ahead with this, then obviously if someone else steps out of line like I have, this is going to affect councillors and the mayor for years to come' -- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
The lawyer, George Rust-D'Eye, offered some clarification of the grounds on which the mayor could mount a court challenge.
Council could not act on "speculation or irrelevant allegations" and its motions could be seen "as an attempt to punish (Ford) for alleged personal conduct, or as a symbolic statement of council's intent to be doing something in response to it," Rust-D'Eye said.
"There is no evidence before the council suggesting that the mayor has failed to exercise or abused his powers, or been unwilling or unable to fulfil them."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ford should take his cues from what city council is telling him.
"I think what's happening at city hall right now is very fluid," she said at a premiers' conference in Toronto.
"I think that the mayor needs to pay very close attention to the messages that he's getting from councillors, and my hope is that he would take his lead from their advice."
Ford has drawn international attention since admitting to smoking crack cocaine while in office and has stubbornly refused to step down or take a leave of absence.
Current municipal law makes no provision for the mayor's forced removal from office unless he's convicted and jailed for a criminal offence or misses three months of meetings without permission from council.
Council's actions are a sign there's no immediate need for the provincial government to intervene, Wynne said.
"I see that city council is making decisions and they are determined, from what I've heard some of them say and what's evident from their actions today, they're determined to find a way to make city council work," she said.
Councillors, who have expressed increasing distress about Ford's follies, voted to strip him of his authority to appoint key committee chairmen or exercise emergency powers. The motions were immediately adopted as bylaws.
"Councillors had their say today," Ford told reporters. "Taxpayers are going to have their say on Oct. 27 (2014)."
A third motion, to be debated Monday, would see his office and budget essentially moved to the deputy mayor's control.
John Mascarin, a municipal law expert, said Ford faces an uphill battle if the matter does go to court, even though Rust-D'Eye has raised a few arguable points.
"Council clearly has the authority to do what it has done," Mascarin said. "The city's case is very clear."
Any case to quash the bylaws, likely on the grounds council acted illegally or in bad faith, would be heard before Ontario Superior Court. Ford would also probably seek an injunction to put the bylaws on hold pending the outcome of the case, which could take months.
Coun. John Filion said he was "extremely careful" with the wording of the motions, adding he is confident what council did is legal.
A dissenting vote came from Coun. David Shiner, who questioned council's action.
"It's unfortunate council has taken away the authority of the electorate to respond and to allow the person who was elected to maintain his responsibilities or decide that he should be out of office," Shiner said.
-- The Canadian Press