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Wynne defends decision to not meet with Ford

Wynne defends decision to not meet with FordOntario Premier Kathleen Wynne sits with Hydro officials in Toronto on December 26 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - The gulf between Toronto's controversial mayor and Ontario's premier widened Wednesday as Rob Ford said it was "very disappointing" that Kathleen Wynne repeatedly refused to meet with him.

Wynne emphasized, however, that she bore no political ill will against the leader of Canada's largest city and was simply working in line with decisions made by city council.

Ford was stripped of much of his mayoral powers in November, following his shocking admission he had smoked crack cocaine during one of his "drunken stupors" and bought illegal drugs.

Most of his responsibilities were transferred to deputy mayor Norm Kelly, who Wynne has since been communicating with, most notably during an ice storm that hit Toronto last month.

"This isn't about a political grudge," Wynne said when asked how she could ignore a democratically elected mayor.

"The city council of Toronto made a decision about the leadership at the city. I have been consistent in my approach, which is to meet with the deputy mayor who has the responsibility to be the leader at Toronto city council and that's what I will continue to do."

Wynne's comments came a day after Ford requested a "one-on-one" meeting with the premier.

"I really need to be strategic about the meetings that I take and so meeting with the person who has the leadership authority and the leadership responsibility, that's my responsibility," said Wynne.

"As long as this situation is in place, city council has given Norm Kelly, the deputy mayor, the responsibilities and the authority and that's why I'm meeting with him."

But Ford pointed out he was still the one who had been chosen by residents to lead the city.

"I would like to remind Premier Wynne that I remain the head of Council and official representative of the City of Toronto," he said in a statement issued Wednesday. "These powers can only be removed by the residents of Toronto at the next general election."

Ford — who has already signed up to run in the Oct. 27 election — also reiterated his request for an "urgent meeting" with Wynne on how the province could help with the cost of storm recovery efforts.

"My sole objective is representing the interests of Toronto taxpayers and finding a way to pay for the damage these storms have caused," he said. "If she doesn't want to meet with me, she doesn't want to meet with me. All she's doing is letting the people of this great city down."

But at least one councillor said Wynne was right in choosing to speak with the deputy mayor over Ford.

"(Kelly) has the confidence and support of council. The mayor does not and the mayor should gracefully understand that," said Coun. Joe Mihevc.

"The premier is acting judiciously and wisely, I think most of us agree."

Ford still had the power to declare an emergency during the ice storm which highlighted the city's current power structure, although doing so would have transferred decision-making powers to Kelly.

While Ford decided against such a declaration, the premier said the mayor's decision had no impact on the aid being offered by the province.

"I made it very clear that all of the resources that were needed by all of the municipalities that were affected were available to those municipalities, whether there was a state of emergency declared or not," Wynne said.

The storm downed hydro lines, left hundreds of thousands in the dark for days and stalled road and air travel.

It also led Toronto council to vote Monday in favour of asking the province to declare the city a disaster area in order to qualify for relief funding under an Ontario program.

City staff have said Toronto faces a cleanup bill of at least $106 million from the ice storm on top of $65.2 million in costs arising from a severe rainstorm on July 8.

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