Rob Ford’s powers as mayor may not be as grand as he thinks they are

Rob Ford’s powers as mayor may not be as grand as he thinks they are

Mayor Rob Ford (Image: City of Toronto) 

With Rob Ford’s transit plans poised to grind to a rather embarrassing halt after a local law firm, solicited by Councillor Joe Mihevc, argued that the mayor legally lacked the power to unilaterally kill Transit City, the city hall press corps is pontificating about what, exactly, the powers of the mayor’s office are. (Of course, it probably would’ve been better to explore the limit of those powers before Ford went ahead and cancelled the multi-billion-dollar transit plan.) While Ford maintains he acted within his rights, based on a perceived mandate from voters to build subways, most reports are suggesting otherwise.

Take, for instance, a column in the Globe and Mail today by Marcus Gee:

In theory, the mayor of Toronto has plenty of power. He is elected citywide and he is elected directly by the voters. That should give him a broad mandate to implement his program.

In practice, he is only one voice among 45 on city council. In the words of Denise Bellamy, the judge who wrote a 2005 report into the Toronto computer-leasing scandal, “Council is the source/primary locus of almost all authority with relatively few exceptions, including all legislative authority.” By contrast, “The statutory authority of the mayor…is actually quite limited.”

Gee also notes that while Ford is the mayor of all of the city, he’s not all-powerful. More to the point, because Toronto’s municipal system is not divided along official party lines—although sometimes it seems like it might as well be—Ford can’t whip his colleagues into following his lead on any given vote. In short, as George Smitherman pointed about before the last election, that means that more than anything else “the office has the powers of persuasion.” But given Ford’s proclivity for bully tactics thus far, perhaps he doesn’t really wield that much power at all.

Transit City flap raises prickly question: What power does Toronto’s mayor have? [Toronto Star]
Transit woes reveal the limits of mayoral power [Globe and Mail]