By Cameron French
TORONTO (Reuters) – Toronto’s embattled mayor, Rob Ford, professed a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and gangs on Wednesday, but he also admitted he has bought illegal drugs in the past two years.
Speaking after Toronto City Council almost unanimously urged Ford to take a break from his duties, Ford said he could not change the past and would continue his efforts as mayor to save Toronto money.
Asked if he had bought illegal drugs in the past two years, he replied somberly: “Yes, I have.”
Ford last week admitted that he smoked crack cocaine “while in a drunken stupor”, and Wednesday’s call from council came in its first meeting since that admission.
An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for several TV and radio stations and published on Wednesday showed that 76 percent of Toronto voters believe Ford should step down or take leave of absence.
“Over the last six months and especially the last few weeks we have grown increasingly concerned by the seemingly endless cycle of allegations, denials and belated admissions about your behavior,” City Councillor Jaye Robinson read from a nonbinding petition signed by 30 of the city’s 44 councilors, and passed by a vote of 41 to two.
That petition is separate from a motion, that has yet to be voted on, that asks Ford to take a leave of absence and apologize for “misleading” Toronto residents. Council has no power to force the mayor to step down or take a break unless he is convicted of a crime.
“Our city’s reputation has been damaged and continues to suffer,” Robinson said. “Together we stand to ask you to step aside and take a leave of absence to address your challenges privately outside of the public eye.”
The scandal, reminiscent of the one which enveloped former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry after he was filmed smoking crack in 1990, has made Ford the target of late night-talk show jokes and drawn international media interest to Toronto.
Six months ago, the Toronto Star newspaper and media blog Gawker said they had seen a video of the mayor smoking the drug, and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has since confirmed the video exists.
Last week, the Star bought a separate video that showed Ford in an expletive-laden rant, making unspecified threats and pounding his hands together. Ford apologized and admitted he was “extremely inebriated”.
While council has no mechanism to remove Ford, the Ontario provincial government could unseat him through new legislation or an amendment to the City of Toronto Act, a risky move that the province’s Liberal government says would set a dangerous precedent.
While Ford has admitted to moments of heavy drinking and drug use, he has said he does not need to seek treatment.