TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can stay in power pending an appeal of a conflict of interest ruling that ordered him out of his job as leader of Canada's biggest city, a court ruled on Wednesday.
Madam Justice Gladys Pardu of the Ontario Divisional Court suspended a previous court ruling that said Ford should be ousted. Ford's appeal of that ruling is set to be heard on January 7, but a decision on the appeal could take months.
Justice Pardu stressed that if she had not suspended the ruling, Ford would have been out of office by next week. "Significant uncertainty would result and needless expenses may be incurred if a by-election is called," she said.
If Ford wins his appeal, he will get to keep his job until his term ends at the end of 2014. If he loses, the city council will either appoint a successor or call a special election, in which Ford is likely to run again.
"I can't wait for the appeal, and I'm going to carry on doing what the people elected me to do," Ford told reporters at City Hall following the decision.
Ford, a larger-than-life character who took power on a promise to "stop the gravy train" at City Hall, has argued that he did nothing wrong when he voted to overturn an order that he repay money that lobbyists had given to a charity he runs.
Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland disagreed, ruling last week that Ford acted with "willful blindness" in the case, and must leave office by December 10.
Ford was elected mayor in a landslide in 2010, but slashing costs without cutting services proved harder than he expected, and his popularity has fallen steeply.
He grabbed unwelcome headlines for reading while driving on a city expressway, for calling the police when a comedian tried to film part of a popular TV show outside his home, and after reports that city resources were used to help administer the high-school football team he coaches.
The conflict-of-interest drama began in 2010 when Ford, then a city councillor, used government letterhead to solicit donations for the football charity created in his name for underprivileged children.
Toronto's integrity commissioner ordered Ford to repay the C$3,150 ($3,173) the charity received from lobbyists and companies that do business with the city.
Ford refused to repay the money, and in February 2012 he took part in a city council debate on the matter and then voted to remove the sanctions against him - despite being warned by the council speaker that voting would break the rules.
He pleaded not guilty in September, stating that he believed there was no conflict of interest as there was no financial benefit for the city. The judge dismissed that argument.
In a rare apology after last week's court ruling, he said the matter began "because I love to help kids play football".
Ford faces separate charges in a C$6 million libel case about remarks he made about corruption at City Hall, and is being audited for his campaign finances. The penalty in the audit case could also include removal from office.
Reporting by Claire Sibonney; Editing by Janet Guttsman, Russ Blinch, Nick Zieminski; and Peter Galloway