Pretty much a month late, and in the early morning of the third day of a blistering hot long weekend, the Ontario minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, did as close to the right thing as he’d left himself the option to do by resigning his cabinet post. Continue reading
What the fuck is up with city council?
Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor – What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.
It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.
What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. But it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).
Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.
I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. This has never been a question of competence or performance.
So, what then?
There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.
Such were dynamics of the day.
Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) It’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.
With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?
We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.
Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, a senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.
— dubiously submitted by Cityslikr
If John Tory, upon taking over the mayor’s office, had really wanted to signal a break with his predecessor’s administration, he’d have gone all in in supporting City Hall’s accountability offices. Serious breaches of city council’s code of conduct were numerous and investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Public complaints about ‘the administration of city government’ to the Ombudsman’s office skyrocketed. Both offices were overwhelmed with work and requests without the proper resources to fully respond.
Yet, he didn’t. His support for both offices through his first budget process was tepid, at best, calculated at worst. At the budget committee wrap up meeting, a motion was passed to cut requests for increased staff in the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner’s offices to zero, none, zip. Public pushback resulted in Mayor Tory’s motion at city council the following week to restore, ever so slightly, a fraction of those requests, including 1 new staffer (of the 6 asked for) for the Ombudsman. Just enough to be able to say publicly, We love the work these offices do! while still being able to keep a straight face.
The current Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, was so grateful and impressed by the gesture that she subsequently decided not to seek reappointment to her post in the fall, a reappointment that should’ve happened two years ago, a full reappointment denied her by city councillors not happy with some of her findings. (That is another sad, sordid story completely.)
“Council is not living up to the commitment of fairness and independent oversight that was promised in the City of Toronto Act,” the Ombudsman said during yesterday’s announcement. “The debate on my reappointment next week promises to be divisive, and I feel this will hurt the office, and its efforts to ensure fairness for the city’s residents.”
Mayor Tory could’ve stepped up and championed the Ombudsman, tried to dampen the divisiveness. He didn’t, only applauding Ms. Crean for a job well done with “gusto and determination”. Don’t let the door hit you… Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?
Now, I’m not going to impugn the mayor with questionable motives for his lukewarm support of the Ombudsman but I will say, just in terms of optics, you’d think Mayor Tory would want the perception of his defending of the city’s accountability offices rock solid and airtight. Given the number of potential conflicts of interest he might be subject to, largely through his connections to Rogers, (I mean how many votes did he sit out for that very reason at last council meeting?), the last thing he’d want is to appear lackadaisical in his views of the oversight officers. Last term was beset with the tumult such an attitude from the mayor’s office established. Mayor Tory could’ve delivered a real break with that.
He didn’t, and my best guess is that he (or his staff) is listening to all the wrong people on the issue. Councillors with an axe to grind with either or both the Integrity Commissioner or Ombudsman. Councillors unhappy with being under the oversight microscope, and taking their findings personally rather than professionally. Thin-skinned public servants unhappy with public scrutiny of their performance.
The company you keep, am I right?
“I had hoped, following the recent election, that the political climate surrounding the ombudsman’s office would have changed,” the Ombudsman said. “When I saw the divisive nature of the debate at budget committee, I made the decision over the past week that I would not seek reappointment.”
Mayor Tory had an opportunity to change the tone between city council and its accountability officers, from adversarial to a more cooperative one. He didn’t. He merely shrugged, unwilling to spend any political capital on the matter as if it wasn’t really that important to him. Now he gets to wear the Ombudsman’s departure because it’s all on him.
— warily submitted by Cityslikr