National Newswatch

OTTAWA - Canada's federal MPs were saying little Thursday about what everyone else across the country was talking about: police confirmation of a video that allegedly appears to show Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.

Only one government member — Brampton's Parm Gill — was willing to express support for the embattled mayor, a right-wing champion who's long been considered an ally of the federal Conservatives.

"Rob Ford is a great mayor," said Gill, parliamentary secretary to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, as reporters and cameras briefly trailed him through the Commons corridors.

"I support him. I think he's doing a wonderful job, and I know the people of Toronto are very happy with the way he's running the city and look forward to working with him."

Fantino, a former Toronto police chief, was keeping his distance from the Ford saga.

"I'm not going to get into it. It's a matter that's before the courts, there's issues there, that I don't know anything about, I never made it my business to inform myself, so I have no way of infusing myself into this," said Fantino, who had left the Toronto police service before Ford became mayor.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who represents the downtown Toronto riding of St. Paul's, had a decidedly different take on the stunning allegations made earlier in the day by Toronto police Chief Bill Blair.

Blair said investigators have recovered a digital video file of Ford that had originally been deleted and which "contains video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press."

Bennett urged Ford to "set an example" by owning up to any possible dependency problem.

"We've all had friends who get into trouble," she said. "What real friends would do is pick up the phone and tell the mayor to go and get some help."

The NDP's Andrew Cash, meanwhile, noted the chummy relationship Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have enjoyed with Ford over the past few years.

"Clearly the prime minister and the minister of finance have been on the record being very close to the mayor of Toronto and I think that Conservatives need to answer questions," said Cash, who represents the Toronto riding of Davenport.

Harper and Ford posed for photos together just a few weeks ago, Cash noted, when there were "already allegations swirling around the mayor at that time, but the prime minister went ahead with that."

"We've been raising questions in the House of Commons about the judgment of this government and the leadership of the Conservatives .... Clearly my constituents in Toronto are concerned about these new allegations and revelations."

In September, Harper and Ford made a joint appearance in Toronto to announce that Ottawa would chip in to help the city expand its subway system further into the city's eastern reaches.

Ford was invited to go fishing with Harper two years ago at the prime minister's summer residence in Harrington Lake, Que.

Ford, in return, hosted a barbecue for the recently re-elected Harper in August 2011, describing him as "my new fishing partner."

"Rob endorsed us in the election; that helped a lot," Harper told guests at the Toronto barbecue.

"And Rob is doing something very important that needs to be done here. He is cleaning up the NDP mess here in Toronto, so that's great," the prime minister continued.

"We started cleaning up the left-wing mess federally in this area, Rob's done it municipally, and now we have to complete the hat trick and do it provincially as well."

Flaherty, for his part, has described himself as an "old friend" of Ford and his family.

In June, Flaherty — the federal cabinet minister responsible for the GTA — said he had "personal talks" with the mayor when news first broke of a video purportedly showing Ford smoking crack with drug dealers.

“I've spoken with the mayor and I've spoken with members of his family," said Flaherty.

"My discussions with him have been personal. They haven’t been about infrastructure or anything like that .... I'm very close to the family and I won't comment further on that."

Ford refused to step down amid the firestorm Thursday, insisting he sees "no reason to resign."

"I wish I could come out and defend myself," he said. "Unfortunately, I can't because it's before the courts and that's all I can say right now."

Allegations of a Ford video surfaced in May when the Toronto Star and the U.S. website Gawker reported they were shown the alleged video.

The mayor has previously said he does not use crack cocaine and the video does not exist.

The Canadian Press
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