Wheeling And Dealing

Evidently, it didn’t pass the smell test.smelltest

Last Friday, Mayor John Tory raised more than a few eyebrows (and some hackles) when he announced two corporations were donating the $200,000 the city needed to keep some outdoor skating rinks open for a few more weeks. “Ummm, what?” I believe my response was upon hearing the city’s private contractor for waste collection, Green4Life, was one of those corporations. (Overcome with the case of the dizzys, I was, when news broke later that the Rogers co-owned MLSE was the other donor.)

I wrote about my concerns with this too, too cozy arrangement a couple days ago, wondering if it passed some ethical/conflict smell test. Yesterday we got the answer.

Green4Life announced that ‘After consulting with City staff about the rules around sponsorships’, they decided to ‘voluntarily withdraw’ their offer ‘so as not to affect current procurement processes.’ embarrassedIn other words, they’d really love to help keep the rinks open but they’ve got that corporate maw to feed.

Is it me or shouldn’t ‘consulting with City staff about the rules around sponsorships’ have sort of been the mayor’s job before rushing to go public with the details? Smell this. Does it smell funny to you? Maybe I shouldn’t go out wearing it in public, you think?

As Councillor Gord Perks pointed out in the wake of this, the city actually has a process in place to be followed for sponsorship deals. “Section 6.2,” the councillor tweeted. “To fit with Code of Conduct ONLY authorized City staff can solicit or negotiate a sponsorship agreement. Council members can’t.” Council members can’t. If Mayor Tory spearheaded these deals to keep the rinks open, did he contravene Code of Conduct rules in doing so? “Section 6.3 ,” the councillor continued. “Unsolicited offers are to be referred to the relevant City Staff.” More: “Section 6.9 All sponsorship agreements must be documented. If over $50K, legal services should be included in reviewing the agreement.” Still more: “6.11 In most circumstances, Council must approve the agreement.”lessons

Did the mayor’s office follow any of these rules in securing the sponsorship deals to keep the skating rinks open?

“Everyone gets a case of the hiccups”, Mayor Tory said in response to Green4Life’s about face. What are you going to do? A rookie mistake.

Maybe. Maybe. It’s just hard to fathom no one around the mayor red flagged this thing. Someone sensing there might be, at best, some bad optics with it and, at worst, actual breaking of the Code of Conduct rules. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, perhaps, who’s been around the block a time or two, more than 20 years of elected municipal service under his belt. His response? Great idea, boss! Let’s go skating!

You’d think that right at the top of Mayor Tory’s Not To Do list would be avoiding the appearance of any conflicts of interest, keeping talk of impropriety or backroom shenanigans to a minimum. What with the goings-on at City Hall during the last 4 years and the previous administration. Keep everyone’s noses clean, at least for the first little while.

You’d think.

No matter. Water under the bridge. And there’s always more fish in the sea especially for the man with a full-to-bursting rolodex.johntoryonice

Plan B (generously speaking) came at another skating rink with the mayor revealing that Tim Horton’s (Timmies, to their friends) would step into the donor void left by Green4Life, chipping in $100,000 to help keep the rinks open. Problem solved. Done, and done. The private sector gallantly to the rescue again. Everything above board, clean as a whistle and legit now.

Except that…

“If Tim Horton’s is the new outdoor rink sponsor,” Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler tweeted, “they’re active lobbyists (as recent as Feb. 10).” Jude MacDonald pointed out further information from the Tim Horton’s lobbyist registrar page, showing that some of the subject matter the company signed up to lobby on was “City Policies relating to Economic Growth, Regulatory Issues; Blue Box Program; Drive-Through policy.”

So, we have this restaurant chain of the ‘quick service’ variety, talking to city officials about city policy concerning issues directly affecting them. ‘Blue Box Program’? Where do I throw away this coffee cup anyway? Garbage? Recycling? The lid in one, the cup in the other? What? ‘Drive-Through policy’?! quagmireAll those nasty emissions from idling cars waiting in the drive-through line. Fine. But now they’re donating $100,000 to keep some city run skating rinks open?

I’m not alone in finding this deal more than a little unsettling, am I?

I tried to state my leeriness about it in a few 140 character outbursts yesterday. Let’s see if I can string the thoughts together here.

If a company wants to do business with or is already doing business with the city, or wants to have some say, influence even, in how the city conducts its business, it strikes me that company shouldn’t be in the business of donating money to help the city go about its business. How is that not somehow greasing something that ought not to be greased? There may be some out there who believe fully in the goodness of the corporate heart. keepyourdistanceI’m just a person who thinks corporations don’t really have hearts, only bottom lines.

Maybe we should work to keep things like the operation of skating rinks in house and stop being dependant on the continued goodwill of upstanding corporate citizens to help effectively run this city. Decrease the overlap of the public and private sectors. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot less ethically messy that way?

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr

4 Responses to Wheeling And Dealing

  1. Great article because it signals something needs to change here.

    You say “I wrote about my concerns with this too, too cozy arrangement a couple days ago, wondering if it passed some ethical/conflict smell test. Yesterday we got the answer.”
    And then you say that GFL voluntarily withdrew because it would affect the current procurement processes.

    Then you go on to opine…”If a company wants to do business with or is already doing business with the city, or wants to have some say, influence even, in how the city conducts its business, it strikes me that company shouldn’t be in the business of donating money to help the city go about its business. ”

    I totally disagree. This is good business practice. My suppliers and potential suppliers were often approached for my company golf day prizes with the opportunity to get free advertising. My staff benefited not me. In this case the citizens of Toronto benefit not any one councillor/staff member. I do not see a conflict.

    In my opinion, it is the rules surrounding the “current procurement processes” that needs to change. The rules were probably developed with an ethical/conflict intent but taken to extreme it appears ludicrous.

  2. Tim Hortons has been sponsoring free skates in our Municipal arenas for longer than I can remember here in Oakville. Good corporate PR, and no signs of any favoritism given to them. Just as you see companies sponsoring spots on the boards for kids house league and rec hockey, corporate donations are not all bad.
    Even David Miller had some sponsorship for keeping the rinks open, and didn’t MasterCard help out for a few years in Toronto?

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Mr Rickinoakville,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke never said corporate donations are all bad. We just happen to think sponsoring a good PR free skate is significantly different than putting up money to plug a hole in a city’s operating budget especially if that corporation is also lobbying the city on matters of policy. I don’t know what that smells like to you but, to us, it’s a whole lot like currying favour.

      Yes, David Miller did it too. MasterCard did help keep city rinks open. Do note, however, in the article linked to that story earlier in the comments here that Miller’s spokes person did say that it wasn’t an ideal budget solution. Here we are, 8 years on, still having this discussion.

      • “Here we are, 8 years on, still having this discussion.”

        …and we have had TWO (2) Council Elections since then – with very-little change in Council Members (or Staff Policy/Practice)…plus almost Zero support for any kind of Tax-Increase that would go into General Revenues.

        Most voters are (A) Bad at Math, and (B) only Pick-Up on the Media-Attention whenever Rinks (or Pools or Schools – or Whatever) are under immediate-threat.

        Sadly, in a choice between the Police Budget and Rinks/Pools – the Police Budget is going to “WIN”…

        I know you hate “Zero-Sum” discussions about the Toronto Budget, but nothing we have seen in the last 8 years (*or this current Council) gives me any hope that new Revenue is coming soon.

        So we need to figure-out “How to Keep the Lights On” – while Council plays their usual “Kabuki Theatre” roles for the Media and the Public on these issues.

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