One More Kick At The TCHC Can

I know I really should let go of this TCHC imbroglio, I really should. It only draws out the timeline and plays into the mayor’s hands since it is the heart and soul, the bread and butter topped with gravy of his schtick, and ultimately diverts attention from the real news of the past couple days. That is, his complete reversal on his campaign theme of the city not having a revenue problem. Apparently, Mayor Ford now thinks it does.

But enough of that. Back to the TCHC.

To the mayor and his folks, this mess at the TCHC represents everything they’ve been railing about for years now. Wasteful spending at City Hall. And just like on the campaign trail with Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party or the bunny suits, it’s a scandal that comes in units everyone can fully grasp. $53,000 Christmas parties! $1800 spa retreats! $1000 for chocolates?! I mean, come on! I scour the shelves at Shoppers Drug Mart for post-Valentine Day sales of cheap Lindt chocolates! (Reminding me, as many things do, of an exchange on Arrested Development between Michael and his mother, Lucille. Michael has been refusing to give his brother, Gob, any free frozen bananas from the family’s frozen banana stand. Coming to Gob’s defense, Lucille asks Michael what a banana costs. $10?)

I’m not intending to downplay the seriousness of the situation at TCHC or to serve as an apologist for those who thought it fine and dandy to charge such extravagances to a city corporation that oversees social housing serving many low income citizens. If nothing else, how could they not know how badly this would play out? It’s an obliviousness that is incomprehensible. (See Lucille Bluth, above.) The right wing, pro-Ford, anti-government types have every right to be dancing with joy and ululating on web pages and newspapers everywhere. This has not been bureaucracy’s finest hour.

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. As we wrote yesterday, the amount of money in question (high estimates right now place it at about $10.2 million through poorly tendered procurements and employee expenses) is infinitesimally small in relation to the funds the city gives to the TCHC and smaller still in terms of Toronto’s overall annual operating budget. It’s a sliver and nowhere near the amount the mayor will need to dig himself out of the budget hole he’s created for himself next year. This is a convenient diversionary tactic he’s using to deflect attention from our bigger fiscal problems.

Some are suggesting that this is just the tip of the ‘corruption’ iceberg, as those who lack any concrete evidence will indeed say. Until there’s any actual proof of that assertion, it’s nothing more than political theatrics to operate under that assumption. The Auditor General has uncovered some reprehensible dirt and tells us he’s just scratched the surface. So be it. Let him proceed with his work, and until he finds massive, large scale fiscal sordidness, it’s nothing more than political opportunism to talk of rot.

“This would never happen in the private sector,” Councillor Frances Nunziata told the CBC’s Metro Morning this morning, parroting the administration’s line about anything to do with government that they don’t like. An odd sentiment, really, coming just 2 days after the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature went to Inside Job, a movie detailing the widespread fraudulent behaviour in the financial private sector which brought the world to the precipice of economic ruin. Yes, Councillor Nunziata, such things do happen in the private sector. That doesn’t excuse it at the TCHC but please stop pretending this kind of problem only exists within governments.

Any large organization, public or private, with thousands of employees and spending billions of dollars is going to be subject to financial irregularities. To think otherwise or to accept it as business as usual in one sector and not the other, is misguided or delusional. That is why mechanisms like the Auditor General’s office exist. In order to combat such things. That is what has happened at the TCHC. So far, the numbers are nowhere near the 10% of waste the mayor told us he would find, easy, and certainly way off the amount he needs to find to compensate for the loss of revenue he’s inflicted on the city with his tax cuts and freezes. Until they begin to so much as approximate those figures, let’s leave the Auditor General to do his job and get on with the actual work of finding ways to balance our books.

doggedly submitted by Cityslikr

10 Responses to One More Kick At The TCHC Can

  1. Andrew says:

    If a private company, corporation or individual wants to spend $50k on a Christmas party, that is there decision. But a government agency spending money that should have gone to helping individuals in less than perfect circumstances is a piss poor decision regardless of who is mayor.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Andrew,

      We ask this question with no hint of rancor or glibness because we really don’t know the answer to it. Where do we draw the line at discretionary government spending especially for those agencies or entities that oversee the more vulnerable citizens? Wage, benefits and then zero tolerance for anything other than that? If not 50k for a Christmas party, what? 20k? 10? Just a potluck?

      Do we expect only those who put the common good before self-interest to work in the civil service and bureaucracy? That would limit the pool of candidates, wouldn’t it?

      Again, we ask because we don’t have the answer. 50K for a Christmas party seems outlandish to us but the TCHC says that it was a party for 800 people which makes far less unreasonable. And as we have written, it is a small, small fraction of overall TCHC budget. Are we obsessing over crumbs?

      And if you say that’s 50K that could’ve gone into repair x number of housing units, fair enough. But that’s essentially saying that those working for the TCHC should expect salary and benefits and no perks. I just don’t think that’s an environment where you attract your best and brightest. We don’t want the best and brightest working for the government, don’t we?

      One final point we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would like to make. You’re OK with a private company or corporation spending 50K on a Christmas party as long they don’t get to write it off as a business expense, right? That costs taxpayers, too. Or should only the private sector get to maintain employee moral or whatever other reason is used to justify business expenses?

      • Andrew says:

        The argument that “this is a fraction” of the budget, yadda, yadda, yadda does not address that fact that the TCHC spent money on self-indulgent activities that should have been spent on improving the lives of others and not themselves. You can’t expense a Christmas party, a retirement party, or employee appreciation day.

        Check out the Sun, the TCHC with their great financial wizardy to lose $44 million in the stock market. Money earmarked for improving and renovating the current housing stock.

      • cityslikr says:

        Dear Andrew,

        Valid points but we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke think you are still avoiding answering the question. Where’s the line on what and how government agencies spend? Zero? Should all the money earmarked for something like TCHC be directed only to the program with nothing going to administration, operated on a purely volunteer basis?

        It is easy to get outraged about particular spending. Start putting the rules in place. What is an appropriate expense and what isn’t?

      • Sonny Yeung says:

        Andrew; you shouldn’t be so gullible to believe Sun headlines blaming the bosses for losing $41.4 M. When it was the CFO who did. When you reread the article that they recouped $34 M.

        SO the loss of $7.4 M I would argue was a bad move of a public sector investment in business on the stock market much like right wingers who lost pension money.

        Though I agree it would have been better to invest in repairing the public housing in the first place!

      • Andrew says:

        Government agencies should spend money/funds on their direct mandate.

        If you want a Christmas party or gifts for employees, have executives pay out of their pockets or employees chip in.

        Arguing that the money wasted was a fraction of a budget is also not constructive. Fractions add up over time. So the money spent on several years of Christmas parties adds quickly to $250,000 and that is not chump change.

        Sonny, you have your numbers wrong on the money lost on the stock market, regardless of losses, the was money for repairing apartments and according to city laws, the investment was to be in “safe” securities, i.e. bonds.

        If you are going to compare the G20 to the TCHC, I can bring out all sorts of examples ill spent money dating back to Confederation.

      • Sonny Yeung says:

        Del Grande said it was $50 M in the article.

        http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/sueann_levy/2011/03/01/17457016.html

        Ferrier conceded that the TCHC did book investment losses of $41.4-million in 2008 and 2009 but claimed they have now recouped $34-million as of December 2010 as a result of their restructuring efforts.

        It was the G8 in Muskoka vs the TCHC retreat for $6000, same year NOT confederation!

  2. mettle says:

    >I’m not intending to downplay the seriousness of the situation at TCHC or to serve as an apologist for those who thought it fine and dandy to charge such extravagances to a city corporation that oversees social housing serving many low income citizens.

    it feels like the election all over again. one side trumpeting the sensational and drawing attention to its cause. the other side playing defence badly.

  3. Sonny Yeung says:

    Andrew, last week the Sun ran a front page head line about Giambrone overspending by $3,300. On page 22, was the article of Ford’s budget hiding $3,000,000.00 for consultants!

    The TCHC spent $6,000 on a retreat in Muskoka which is chump change to the hundreds of millions the Federal Conservatives spent on the G8 in Huntsville. Leaving some $50,000,000.00 in pork for Clement’s riding. SO my point is more ink will be spilled to push for the privatization of community housing…

  4. bruce says:

    as someone who works in social housing in Toronto, but not for TCHC, I have watched closely. Yes ther was misspemnding by some people, and yes there was money wasted. However, when peopl start lambasting a not-for-profit for expences that are not, in context, i get upset..
    This is a crappy job, the damage that the tenants have all suffered is present every day- their stories anr hard, and support in people with this much trauma is a demanding and difficult job. rthe toll that it takes on workers is measurable. I for one do not begrudge the TCHC money to occasionally pamper their staff.

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