Keeping The Gravy Train From Derailing

Colour me confused by a couple articles posted over at the Toronto Star yesterday.

In them, we read of improper, sole-sourced contracts being paid out by the city since mid-2009, amounting to some $2.5 million dollars. The headline grabber was $3674 spent on a tai chi instructor. Oh my God! Gravy! Big numbers. Little context. The city has a spending problem!

Except that, except that in the overall scheme of things, nothing could be further from the truth. As the Star itself points out (in paragraph 5) “…the purchases in question constitute a minimal share of the more than $2 billion that the municipality spends each year on various purchases. And the vast majority of sole-source deals, totaling about $154 million last year, are properly authorized.” Moreover, a city spokesperson claimed that “…instances of staff breaking sole-source procedures are rare, totalling just 1.6 per cent of the 1,257 untendered purchases made in 2010.”

Yet the headlines intones: ‘City improperly approved millions in sole-source purchases’ and ‘The more things change…’ You finish that thought. The more they stay the same. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.

We hang our heads, throw our hands up in the air. The bureaucracy. It can’t be tamed. Not under the profligate David Miller. Not under the cost cutting Rob Ford.

Or am I misreading the Star’s intentions? Paragraphs rearranged and headlines rewritten, one might garner from the information delivered that, in fact, the city has been doing a remarkably good job in keeping a lid on sole-sourcing contracts. Isn’t a 1.6% compliance rate, even if committed by repeat offenders, very, very low? Where is the comparison to other corporations with billions of dollars in expenditures? How does 1.6% stack up with similar corporations both public and private? That there might be pertinent data to have access to.

Instead, we get Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday teeing off in the school marmish way he does best. “We have rules there because those rules are necessary to protect tax dollars and make sure what we’re buying is done properly and at the best price.” Yes, Deputy Mayor, we have rules and it seems they are followed 98.4% of the time. Are our tax dollars really best used releasing the Auditor General to undercover that last 1.6%?

And Councillor Paul Ainslie doing his best Donald Trump imitation. “If you’re going to continue to flout the rules, break the rules in a substantial way, you’re fired.” In a substantial way? Show us, Councillor Ainslie and the Toronto Star, examples of rules being flouted in a substantial way. Context, please, not just big numbers.

“It’s not chump change,” Councillor Ainslie informs us. No it isn’t, councillor. But neither will this charge to eliminate questionable contracting practices help to substantially (or even significantly for that matter) fill the gaping budgetary gap you insist on hanging over our heads, Damocles-like. $2.5 million is not only a small fraction of the city’s spending over the course of the last couple years, it is even infinitesimally small compared to the revenue lost by getting rid of the vehicle registration tax last year.

While it comes as no surprise that alleged fiscal hawks like Councillor Ainslie and the deputy mayor try and make hay with these findings, I’m just not sure what the Toronto Star is attempting to do with them. I look at their article and think immediately that it goes to show all the gravy the mayor campaigned on is largely in his own mind but is the Star suggesting only that he’s no less able to reign in what there is of it than his predecessor was?

Or is this just another example of what passes for objective journalism these days? Since the Star has been labeled anti-Ford and certainly a couple of their columnists, Christopher Hume and Royson James have emerged as vehement critics of this administration, is this nothing more than a bone thrown to the Ford Nation? See? We’re not biased. We too can find examples of wasteful, improper spending. There’s still gravy, people. Our fiscal house remains in disorder.

It does little to get to the heart of the matter and only serves to give both sides some red meat to beat each other over the heads with. Little learned. Just more heedless noise.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr

4 thoughts on “Keeping The Gravy Train From Derailing

  1. What is also made clear is whether the entire expense is entirely ‘waste’ or if they just didn’t make absolute certain there wasn’t a cheaper price possible.

    The Tai Chi, for example, implies that the entire $3674 was ‘wasted’ when in there may have actually been a legitimate requirement to hire a Tai Chi instructor and had it gone out for tender instead of sole sourcing, they may have found one for $3500. So the possible ‘waste’ or ‘gravy’ could have been a few percentage points on the few percentage points of the overall budget that wasn’t properly tendered. Certainly a heck of a lot less than $2.5 million.

    Of course it is entirely possible that they could have spent $200 in staff time to hold a bidding contest only to learn that the cheapest possible instructor was still $3674.

    • I hail from an Asian background but don’t work like a dog pulling sleds, sniffing for bodies OR guiding the blind. Should Toronto spend more time on Tai Chi we would have less joint & muscle problems…

  2. The Ford Nation. No surprise why Rob Ford would run for Mayor. The surprise is that anyone would vote for him. That said, Rob Ford is right about combining the ambulances with the fire department. I was on Yonge Street earlier this week and there was a drunk collapsed at Charles Street. Both the fire department and the ambulance were there. That is ‘gravy.’ The man was not injured in a burning building. He needed detox and medical care for his self-inflicted attack, but not fire services. Let’s support (gasp) Ford when he proposes changes to (not really) emergency response situation such as these.

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