Rob Ford is no longer the mayor of Toronto.
In a decision that, I think one can fairly say, has stunned and shocked many, not least myself, Justice Charles Hackland has removed Ford from office for breaching provincial conflict of interest law. Justice Hackland has allowed 14 days for Ford to vacate the office or to appeal, and there can be little doubt that Ford will appeal. It may be, therefore, that Ford will be granted an appeal and a stay of the judgement, and he may remain in office for many more months or even end up serving his full term.
But there can be little doubt anymore that Ford is politically finished after what is, at least in recent memory, an unprecedented legal decision and after the farcical soap opera of the last two years that wearied even many of those who swept Ford into office on a wave of populist backlash to the perceived haughtiness of, and disappointments in Mayor David Miller's administration. That wave created a brief "coalition" of voters between Ford's core block of suburban middle-class whites and broader sections of Toronto's very diverse electorate.
This coalition, already coming apart, can be safely said to be over.
Many of his core supporters will no doubt stay with him no matter what happens. There is a constituency on the hard right that basically sees the courts as being a fundamental part of a liberal and socialist "conspiracy" against men, tradition, Canada, Christianity, etc. To them this was a political and not a legal decision.
Ford reflected this in his first, and very brief response to his ouster outside of his office today when he said "This comes down to left-wing politics. The left-wing wants me out of here".
This was a predictable response, as Ford has never, in his personal life or politcal career, really accepted responsiblity for any of his actions and nor has he been made to. Until now.
As Clayton Ruby, the lawyer who tried the case on behalf of the citizen complainant Paul Magder, said “Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford.”
Judge Hackland's ruling, once it has had time to sink in and be digested over the coming days, is truly damning. In his judgement, which centered around Ford's participation in a vote at Toronto City Council where the mayor and his allies overturned a decision by the city's Integrity Commissioner that Ford should pay back money he solicited on city letterhead for his football "charity", the judge demolishes Ford's legal arguments.
While acknowledging that "the circumstances of this case demonstrate that there was
absolutely no issue of corruption or pecuniary gain on the respondent’s
part" the judge goes on to dismantle Ford's claims of innocent ignorance stating that Ford's "conduct in speaking and voting on the matter involving his repayment
obligation did not occur through inadvertence. Inadvertence involves
oversight, inattention or carelessness. On the contrary, the
respondent’s participation was a deliberate choice. He testified in this
proceeding that he appreciated that the resolution before Council
impacted him financially..." and further that Ford "admitted that he sought no advice, legal or otherwise, as to whether he should be involved in the debate."
In response to Ford's repeated claims that this was no more than an "error in judgement", after stating that "In one sense, every contravention of a statute based on deliberate action can be said to involve an error in judgment" Hackland goes on to state that "In my opinion, the respondent’s [Ford's] actions were characterized by ignorance
of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice,
amounting to wilful blindness. As such, I find his actions are
incompatible with an error in judgment."
Any reasonable person, after reading the ruling, will plainly see that this was a decision based in law, not politics, and that it was the result of Ford's own colossal sense of arrogance and entitlement.
Whether it was managing to get out of drunk driving, pot possession or two assault charges (including one for assaulting his own wife), or whether it was never being held to account for first being a part-time councillor and then a part-time mayor who skipped out on work to coach football and who collected a full-time salary from his family business while being paid by the "taxpayer", or whether it was not having to face any consequences for numerous dubious actions like having city road repairs in front of his business sped up or having public buses diverted to pick up his football team (throwing hard working commuters out into the rain during rush hour) there had been no consequences.
He was seemingly invincible.
But like all those who think, and whose popularity and power often oddly depends upon the fact that they are somehow above the rules, once this bubble has been burst, once it has been shown that the emperor indeed has no clothes, there is no going back. His allies on council were already abandoning him. I suspect this trickle of distancing and doubts will become a stampede.
Ford will now join a long line of populist demagogues whose fall from grace will be as rapid as their rise.
Regardless of any further legal decisions, it is impossible to see how this decision is not Rob Ford's final political downfall.