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Ford scandal ‘troubling,’ PMO says in statement light on specifics

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a photo opportunity in Toronto on Nov.18, 2013.

AARON HARRIS/REUTERS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office is wading into the Rob Ford saga, avoiding specifics but calling the recent "allegations" against the Toronto mayor "troubling."

Mr. Harper's office also equated the Toronto mayor to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has admitted to using marijuana as an MP.

Many Conservatives have steered clear of Mr. Ford, a onetime ally, since his admission earlier this month to smoking crack . But on Monday – while the Prime Minister made an appearance in Toronto as its city council voted to strip Mr. Ford of certain powers – Mr. Harper's office released a written statement about the mayor, but didn't mention him.

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"These latest allegations are troubling. Our Government does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office, including Justin Trudeau. We'll continue to work with all levels of government on shared priorities, such as jobs and economic growth. That includes working with mayors and city councils, including the Mayor of Toronto and Toronto City Council," Jason MacDonald, Mr. Harper's top spokesman, said in the statement.

It wasn't clear what specific allegations the PMO was referring to. Mr. Harper did not address the issue, or take questions from reporters, during his Toronto appearance.

After Mr. Ford admitted to using crack cocaine two weeks ago, Mr. Harper's office had sent MPs "talking points" on Mr. Ford that suggested they reply to questions by saying: "I have nothing to add to your story. Let me know if you want to talk about job numbers."

Since then, the revelations have piled up. Mr. Ford, for instance, said he "might" have had some drinks before driving, but denied many of the contents in a lengthy police report. Based on interviews with staff, the report alleged Mr. Ford made a racial remark about a cab driver, that staff were concerned about drug use and alcohol consumption, and that they saw him with a woman they thought to have been a "professional escort." The allegations haven't been proven.

Mr. Ford went on to made a lewd comment about his own sex life, leading him to make an apology, hours later, with his wife by his side – and later be lampooned on international television. The latest developments came Monday, when he appeared to mimic drinking and driving to one city councillor; knocked over another one, giving her a fat lip; shouted at members of the public in the viewing gallery; and compared council's move to strip his powers with the invasion of Kuwait.

Critics say the Conservatives are walking a fine line, pursuing stiffer criminal sentencing standards and lambasting Mr. Trudeau while largely staying quiet on Mr. Ford, who continues to hold sway among swaths of vote-rich Toronto.

"I think the Conservatives are being total, total hypocrites on this file," NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie, a Halifax MP, said Monday. "…Why do I think they're staying silent about it? Because this is politics, and Rob Ford does represent a pretty big constituency. He does still have some support. Why, I'll never know, but he does. And I think that the Conservatives are afraid of alienating that. So they are playing a fine line here … screaming about crime and punishment and law and order and then, oh, let's just be really quiet about a man who's mayor who says he does drugs."

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Monday's PMO statement coincided with Parliament's return from a one-week break – and Conservative MPs continued to attack Mr. Trudeau, who was recently was under fire for discussing his support of legalization during a visit to a school in Brandon, Man. Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, answered a question posed by a fellow conservative about Mr. Trudeau on Monday, calling Mr. Trudeau's Brandon statement "completely unacceptable" and insisting he apologize. "Being an overgrown flower child is no excuse for the remarkable poor display of judgment the leader shows," Mr. Calandra said.

Not all Conservatives have avoided the subject of Mr. Ford. On Monday, Treasury Board secretary Tony Clement – an Ontario Conservative MP – said Mr. Ford should be "accountable for his actions," but declined to comment on what city council should do. "I think we also have to show compassion, but yes, of course, he has to be accountable for his actions like we all do," Mr. Clement said. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, another Ontario MP and a friend of the Ford family, choked up earlier this month when asked what Mr. Ford should do. "At the end of the day, he has to make his own decision about what he ought to do," Mr. Flaherty said. "Certainly his family is helping him and wishing him well. That's all I can say."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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