Following the controversy surrounding Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's admitted substance abuse and further allegations of inappropriate conduct, the Toronto City Council voted on November 15, 2013 and November 18, 2013 to remove the non-statutory mayoral powers from Ford and grant them to Kelly for the remainder of Ford's term. On May 1, 2014, Kelly took over the remainder of Ford's duties when Ford entered drug rehabilitation and started a leave of absence from Toronto City Council. These powers were returned when Ford returned to his job on July 1. Even though Kelly had all the powers of the mayoral office for 3 months, Ford still technically held the title of Mayor, while Kelly was still referred to as the Deputy Mayor.
Kelly is a trained historian. He studied Canadian political history at the University of Western Ontario and attended Carleton University and Queen's University. Among his most important accomplishments, Kelly undertook a two-year research project for the two best-selling books in the field of Canadian history: The National Dream and The Last Spike, written by Pierre Berton.
Kelly won the Governor General's Award for his work in The National Dream, which was transferred to television by the CBC as a popular, award-winning documentary series of the same name. Kelly was also a history teacher at Upper Canada College, a private school and A.Y. Jackson Secondary School, in Toronto.
He was elected as a federal Member of Parliament (MP) for Scarborough Centre in the 1980 election, defeating Progressive Conservative (PC) incumbent Diane Stratas. Kelly was twice appointed Parliamentary Secretary: first, to the Ministry of Supply and Services and then to the President of the Treasury Board. In this latter capacity, Kelly was given the responsibility of guiding the Government’s reorganization of its Crown Corporations, Bill C-124, through the House of Commons and its Committees. Kelly was also appointed in 1983 to the Special Committee on Visible Minorities in Canadian Society. This Committee was charged with the responsibility of doing research on the status of visible minorities in Canadian society.