Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted during a heated City Council debate that he bought illegal drugs while in office, but adamantly refused to step down despite calls from nearly every councilor to take a leave of absence and get help.

"I'm most definitely keeping this job," the 44-year-old Ford said on Wednesday, insisting he was "a positive role model for kids."

I am not an addict of any sort, so I am not quite sure why you are saying that I need help,

Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto

But he asserted his intention to continue to work as mayor so he can carry out his promise to save money for Toronto taxpayers.

Asked if he had bought illegal drugs in the past two years, he replied somberly: "Yes, I have." Ford, elected in 2010 on a promise to end the City Hall "gravy train", admitted last week that he had smoked crack cocaine in "one of my drunken stupors". Wednesday's call for him to step aside came in council's first meeting since that admission.

"Our city's reputation has been damaged and continues to suffer," City Councillor Jaye Robinson read from a non binding petition signed by 30 of the city's 44 councillors, and passed by a vote of 41 to two.

"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."

Councillors will vote later on a separate motion that asks Ford both to take a leave of absence and to apologise 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, and Ford insists he has no plans to go, or to seek treatment.

'Not an addict'

"I am not an addict of any sort, so I am not quite sure why you are saying that I need help," he told councillors during an hour-long grilling that centred on his fitness to remain the city's chief magistrate.

"I can understand how people would perceive my behaviour," he added. "The reason I drank or did drugs was not because of stress, it was out of sheer stupidity. That's all it was."

As the questions continued, hundreds of protesters gathered outside City Hall, many of them calling on Ford to step down.

An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for several TV and radio stations showed that 76 percent of Toronto voters think Ford should step down or take a leave of absence, while only 24 percent agreed with Ford's insistence on staying in his job.

Source: Agencies