A Rethink

August 30, 2012

Let me rephrase that…

A couple days ago, I wrote a post saying, law be damned, I didn’t want to see the mayor thrown out of office due to this conflict of interest claim. It would martyr him and prove to all his supporters what they’ve believed all along. Nefarious forces – left wingers, union types, downtown elitists – were out to get Mayor Ford. They never accepted the results of the 2010 election and were bound and determined to overturn them at the earliest possible opportunity.

It’s not paranoia if it’s true.

Now, I received a little pushback from many folks I normally agree with at a political level. The law is the law. If a judge in a courtroom decided the mayor broke that law, well, the mayor was just going to have to face the consequences. Just like anybody else might expect to if they found themselves in a similar position.

I don’t disagree with that but as I responded to someone, it’s the political fallout I’m concerned with. An already politicized electorate might simply retreat to their respective corners, any sort of compromise now out of the question, and begin training, sharpening the knives in preparation of 2014. An already ugly partisan environment would get a whole lot uglier.

Can’t we all just try and get along?

But I’ll tell you what. I don’t think those still in Mayor Ford’s corner want to get along. I think most of them are digging what’s happening right now. It feeds in mightily to their persecution complex and, truthfully, that’s all that’s really keeping them politically engaged, isn’t it? The drive to stick it to anyone they think has stuck it to them in the past. Left wingers, union types, downtown elitists. The usual suspects.

Let’s not lose sight of the facts of this matter.

This isn’t about where the donated money went. It isn’t about the mayor, then a city councillor, using his official capacity to raise funds for private purposes. That matter was settled a couple years ago.

It didn’t pass the city’s Integrity Commissioner’s smell test who ordered the mayor to pay back the money out of his own pocket, all $3150 of it. Council voted on it. A done deal.

Once in power and carrying a little more sway at council, Mayor Ford managed to bring the item back for reconsideration. One of his most ardent defenders, Councillor Paul Ainslie, brought forward the motion to overturn the previous council’s decision and therefore saving the mayor $3150. Ethically, a little sketchy but hey, to the victors go the spoils.

That Mayor Ford opted to stay in council chambers and participate in the debate on the item and even vote on it is what’s at the heart of this matter. Nothing else. That the outcome would determine whether or not he’d have to pay $3150 out of his own pocket is the very fucking definition of a pecuniary interest. Not recusing himself is the very fucking definition of a conflict of interest.

Even his most slavish scribbler over at the Toronto Sun, Sue-Ann Levy, admits as much. “He [Mayor Ford] should have declared a conflict when the donations were discussed at the Feb. 7 council meeting and not voted on whether to approve Ms. Manners’ [Integrity Commissioner and Birkenstock wearer Janet Leiper] report,” she writes in her article a couple days ago. Thank you, Sue-Ann.

But instead of making that the first sentence and exploring what seems to be Mayor Ford’s deep mistrust of good and sound judgement, she buries it deep within the usual drivel. A plot, aided by a publicity seeking lawyer and cheered on by left wingers, union types, downtown elitists and, what’s a new one to me, the “AHTS” crowd. The “AHTS” crowd? Yeah, apparently you use your best Boston/Cambridge/hoity-toity accent.

What’s especially galling to Ms. Levy, however, is that the mayor’s being singled out when everybody else on council is up to their eyeballs in conflict of interest as well. Take her word for it as there’s not much more to her allegations. Remember Councillor Pam McConnell buying that condo in the new Regent’s Park development at market rate? Yeah well, Sue-Ann assures us there’s a lot more of that going on. So why just pick on the mayor?

What kind of defence is that? Even if there was a shred of evidence to back up any of her assertions (or those made by other supporters), that’s the take away lesson? I may’ve goofed up but so did everybody else. Oh. OK. That’s alright then.

Got that, kids?

So to summarize (and quoting Sue-Ann Levy): “Mayor Ford should have declared a conflict.” But demanding he accept the consequences of his actions as determined in a court of law, well, that’s just a witch hunt and nothing more than cheap politics. “It’s sickening how people want to politicize the process,” Councillor Doug Ford said.

You know, the law’s the law, politics is politics and all that. Apparently, the two should never overlap.

That’s not owning up to a mistake. It’s an attempt to shift the blame. The real witch hunt in this little drama.

And it’s making it difficult to simply shrug your shoulders and say, oh well, just 2 more years.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Should Politics Trump Everything?

March 12, 2012

Emerging from a 3 day battle with some godless microbe and 72 hours of highly potent neocitran-boozie concoction to kill it into submission, I’m scanning the #TOpoli with a mixture of disbelief and.. something else that is beyond my vocabulary at the moment. Like, I’m really groggy and quite possibly drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to fully judge if I’m asleep or awake.

Is this how the more casual observers of the municipal political scene here in Toronto feel when reading through the news? An out-of-body experience, this can’t really be happening kind of sensation? This is all a joke, right? This is not how a major metropolitan city conducts itself, is it?

On their regular Sunday afternoon radio slot, the mayor and his councillor brother brag about the restraint shown when the councillor was verbally accosted by a bike courier. “He (courier) was cursing and swearing with some nasty words,” Councillor Ford said. “I told him that if I wasn’t an elected official I would kick his ass.” He so would’ve too! He really would’ve! “The mayor said there would have been ‘one less courier to worry about’ if there was an incident. “Doug took kick-boxing for six years and has quick feet,” Mayor Ford said.

No, no, no, no, no. Our mayor did not just say that out loud, over the wireless, as some sort of populist bromide. My big brother’s tough as nails! Ford tough! You know how I know that’s all just a figment of my imagination? Later on in the show when talking about bullying in schools with a newly elected TDSB trustee, Councillor Ford claimed: “We never had bullies in our school. We’d always take care of them if there was.”

No semi-sentient adult being could be that self-unaware to not check themselves before blurting out such revelatory personality traits. I’d punch somebody for bad-mouthing me if there weren’t any repercussions. We didn’t have a bully problem because we ‘took care’ of anybody we thought were bullies…

It’s the virus in my bloodstream making me hear that, right? Some sort of auditory hallucination brought on by my mistakenly having mixed 151 proof rum with my cold medication. My mind’s just fucking with me at this point surely.

But then I wake up this morning to read that there’s a court motion afoot to oust Mayor Ford from office. Good god! Is the fever back? This can’t be—it’s Monday of March break. Nothing’s supposed to happen at City Hall. Will I never be free of this damned contagion that’s playing with my mind?!

For a full account of what’s allegedly happening, read Hamutal Dotan at the Torontoist and John McGrath at Open File TO but in short, way back in 2010, then Councillor Rob Ford used City Hall stationery to solicit donations including from some known lobbyists for his football charity. Integrity Commissioner ruled it a no-no, orders the councillor to pay back whatever donations he received. He claims he can’t because it’s already been spent on football equipment and the like. Integrity Commissioner then insists it has to come out of his pocket. In August 2010, city council agrees.

Some 18 months later and now mayor, Rob Ford still hadn’t complied with the ruling. At last month’s council meeting, a motion is presented and passed that overturns the previous council’s ruling, freeing the mayor of the obligation of paying back the $3150.00. Fine. Whatever. A little greasy but, hey, politics is never cut and dry.

Except today, in an application to the Ontario Superior Court, it’s alleged that the mayor violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. How? Not only did he vote on the item that waived his obligation to reimburse donors $3150 out of his own pocket but he spoke up in defence of his actions before doing so.

The mind boggles…And I don’t think it’s just the pharmaceuticals coursing through my brain.

I mean, last week I watched the mayor recuse himself from a debate and vote on something to do with the Boardwalk Café because he’s involved in some sort of litigation with the restaurant. But somehow this didn’t cross his mind as a possible conflict of interest? Someone on his staff? One of his political allies?

You’ve been ordered to repay $3150 out of your own pocket and it doesn’t strike you as a little iffy to be part of the debate and vote? There’s absolutely nothing that smacks of a conflict of interest about participating in and voting on an item that will save you personally $3150? Does that not seem simply incomprehensible to everyone else aside from just me and my medication?

I am equally as perplexed by the reaction to all this by some of the mayor’s most vocal critics. Whether, if found in violation, the mayor should be removed from office and barred 7 years from seeking office is a bit extreme, we can chat about but to shy away from this as politically bad optics or playing right into the hands of the persecution complex right wing politicians so love to wallow in, seems to be, well, a dereliction of duty frankly. (Hee, hee. Hee, hee. He said ‘doody’.)

Of course, the mayor and his supporters are going to run with this, citing it as proof the left wing is simply intent on driving the mayor from office and denying them their democratic rights, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Witch hunt! Dirty politics! Sore losers! That’s what they do. Conservatives gotta embrace victimhood.

But to shrug this off as bad politics or risky strategy? If this is pursued, it might play right into the hands of the mayor’s underdog status? That’s almost as cynical as how the right’s determined to play this.

To view this as some sort of ‘technicality’ is to accept questionable behaviour on the part of our elected officials as just part of doing business. Rob Ford repeatedly shrugged off requests to repay money the Integrity Commissioner ordered him to pay and then, as mayor, took part in the debate and vote to overturn the city councils move to uphold the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling. Something’s not quite right about that and ignoring it for fear of playing to his base come 2014 renders our democratic system somewhat ethically malleable.

Or am I missing something here, my logic and reasoning floating in a sea of medically enhanced fluid?

medicatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor’s Business

November 3, 2011

Please bear with me if my initial points are a little blurry and all the thoughts not strung together in any sort of coherent fashion. No, Sue-Ann Levy is not ghost writing this post. It’s just that I’ve been banging my head repeatedly against the wall, trying to figure out the general m’eh attitude toward Mayor Ford using his own family printing business, Deco Labels and Tags, to whip up he and his staff a batch of gold embossed business cards.

What part of ‘The Mayor Using His Family Business To Print Business Cards’ doesn’t immediately scream ‘Wrong!’ to everyone? I don’t care if he’s been judicious in not sole sourcing the job out or if he paid fair market value for the order or..or..or.. whatever other flimsy justification he, his brother and staff come up with. There’s a point at every council meeting I’ve ever attended where councillors have to stand and declare ‘an interest’ in a particular item that’s coming up for debate. It’s short hand for ‘conflict of interest’, usually entailing some family member working for the department in question or ownership of a property that may benefit (or not) in a decision council is about to make. Declaring a conflict of interest.

So how can the mayor of Toronto using his family run business to print his business cards be anything other than a conflict of interest? How? How?? Oh. Councillor Minnan-Wong? You had something to say about the matter on The Agenda Monday night?

“But I can also tell you that if the mayor had his druthers about this that he would’ve just had Deco Labels do it for free and had it just delivered to City Hall. But the problem is there are other individuals at City Hall that don’t want him to have these free contributions made to save the taxpayers money for some reason beyond me that was made a few years ago. He would’ve just gone to Deco Labels, had them printed and had the city not be expensed at all. But city council won’t let him do it.”

Hmmm. ‘… other individuals at City that don’t want him to have these free contributions to the taxpayers money…’? Could one of those ‘other individuals’ be the city’s Auditor General, Jeffrey Griffiths? Or then Integrity Commissioner, David Mullan? Seems this practice of using his family business to outfit his office with supplies has been an ongoing concern since back in the early days of Mayor Ford’s time as a councillor. (h/t Edward Keenan whose dynamite article I’m just riffing on here). Turns out, it’s a force of habit that’s been frowned upon but Rob Ford just keeps plugging away at it. Somehow.

And yet the mayor’s council colleagues like Denzil Minnan-Wong, presumably without benefit of a similar family business to help him out around the office, can’t see what the problem is. It’s beyond him why anyone could object to Mayor Ford conducting his official business on his own or Deco Labels and Tags’ dime. (Can you say, `corporate donation`, Councillor Minnan-Wong?) Pish-posh. All’s fair as long as it saves the taxpayers money.

Well councillor, if that’s the case, I say why stop at just measly business cards and letterhead? If it’s all about saving the taxpayers money, let’s try and hand the whole shooting’ match over to anyone who can afford it? Surely there’s got to be someone out there with $9 billion/year they’d be happy to part with in order to run the city. Be great if they could match that again to cover off some of our capital costs too. Then it wouldn’t cost us li’l taxpayers a thing to live in the city.

Never mind the darker implications of public service becoming only the domain of those who can afford it. What about oversight and accountability? Personally, I want to know what our elected officials spent and where the money came from. And frankly, I don’t care if the mayor wants some fancy business cards although I do have to agree with Mr. Keenan that coming from Rob Ford, it is a bit, errr, rich with a noxious whiff of hypocrisy to boot. We’re going with the cheapest bid in contracting out waste collection but not for our business cards? And trying to placate the situation with an ‘I’m paying for it out of my own pocket’ doesn’t cut it either. That money may have come out of your pocket but how exactly did it get in there in the first place? That’s the kind of thing I want kept above board and on the table for everyone to see.

Openness and transparency. That’s a concept Councillor Ford promised to usher in to City Hall if elected mayor. Yet, here he is, still playing fast and loose with his office expenses, maintaining ongoing business with his family firm, fighting off a Compliance Audit Committee request to look through his campaign financing books. It’s all so unseemly and smacks more of disrespect for the taxpayers.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


The Double Life Of Mayor Rob Ford

March 29, 2011

I had a sleepless night last, I must confess. At the centre of my disquiet was a brewing disagreement in my head with our (virtual) friend over at Ford For Toronto, Matt Elliott. I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed on anything and it wasn’t lying easily upon my sleepy head.

Yesterday Elliott linked to a Spacing article written by John Lorinc examining Mayor Ford’s campaign expenses that were submitted last week, stating: I’m no fan of the mayor, but I still don’t see much newsworthy re: Ford, Election Expenses & Deco Labels. But as I read through Mr. Lorinc’s piece, I kept thinking, not newsworthy? How not newsworthy?

Is it because it’s all old news, the mayor’s complicated relationship with his family business, Deco Labels and Tags, and his role as former city councillor and now mayor? A business he’s still actively involved with, apparently? A complicated relationship that for years plagued many of his council colleagues as Ford made his name crusading against office expenses which he rarely-to-never used, and instead paid for such things out of his pocket. This put whatever expenses then Councillor Ford’s actually made out of public view. Say what you want about the bunny suits and taxi fares that made such a big splash in the press, not to mention provided heavy cannon fodder for Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign against waste and corruption at City Hall, but at least those things became public knowledge. How Councillor Ford funded his office endured no such transparency.

That is not to say he was doing anything illegal or unethical. Council set the Auditor-General and Integrity Commissioner upon Ford back in 2007 to investigate his lack of office expense claims. Their report found Ford (and Councillor Doug Holyday) were not adhering to council policy in terms of reporting expenses but suggested no punishment. So there it remained, with Ford able to continue his battle against wasteful councillor spending right into the mayor’s office while keeping his own financial dealings in the murky waters of non-compliance.

At the heart of the issue is Mayor Ford’s use of his family business while acting as a public servant. We know Deco does work  for the city and has been before Ford was first elected to council back in 2000. The amount seems insignificant and distanced enough from the mayor and his now councillor brother, Doug, to be only mildly unsettling. There is the whole sole sourcing contract in one aspect of the deal that seems more than reasonable and only rankles because the mayor has often railed about sole sourcing regardless that it sometimes is the best alternative.

More disturbing, however, is the mayor’s use of his company to supply his office with materials and services that he doesn’t claim as official expenses. Even if he does actually pay out from his own pocket, he’s paying a company that he co-owns and operates with his family. Doesn’t this represent an unfair advantage for the mayor over his council colleagues who don’t have access to a family firm? Does he get a family discount? If so, wouldn’t that constitute some sort of gift or donation from the private sector? These are questions we aren’t able to fully answer because the mayor as a councillor didn’t claim expenses from the city, so didn’t have to publicly declare where and how he spent his money. Not exactly the transparency he pledged to deliver if elected.

The quagmire further widened and deepened when Mayor Ford went public with his expenses for his successful mayoral run last year, disturbing on a number of levels. Firstly, the mayor blew $400,000 past the $1.3 million spending cap with seemingly no penalty for doing so. Why bother having a limit if candidates can simply ignore it by just assuming the overages? That doesn’t really level the financial playing field.

Secondly, the mayor got elected on a platform of vowing to bring sound fiscal management to City Hall but went into debt doing so. To the tune of anywhere between $640,000-$800,000 before post-election fundraising cleared out most of it. Isn’t that a little unnerving? Or do we just chalk it up to making a personal sacrifice for the common good? Like another fiscal conservative, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who is now asking council to pay his legal fees for a case he brought against the city back in 2008 in order to stop it… wait for it, wait for it… paying the legal fees of two other councillors. Initially, Holyday said he was footing the bill but when the city pushed back and strung the case out with an appeal process, well, it all became a little too rich for the deputy mayor’s tastes. Rest assured, good people of Toronto, we’re still saving money in the long run as Councillor Holyday will have finally put this nonsense of paying councillors’ legal fees to bed, once and for all. After, of course, we pay his legal fees.

Even if legitimate, the optics of this are horrible. Just like Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. Completely legitimate and above board but arguably the image the mayor and all the fiscal conservatives rode into power on.

And then there’s the $150,000 in costs to Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign charged by again… wait for it… wait for it… Deco Labels and Tags. That’s in the neighbourhood of 10% of the campaign costs going to Rob Ford’s company. Legitimate and above board but stinking to high heaven.

Think about it for a moment. Rob Ford pays $150,000 to his own company for election related expenses. Expenses that are then (hopefully) covered by donations from the public. Donations that are then subsidized up to 75% by the city. So indirectly, 75% or so of the $150,000 Deco Labels and Tags made from the Ford campaign is paid by taxpayers. Is that what passes for respect in the Ford era?

The mayor cannot continue to hold the moral high ground on fiscal matters of this city, to scream Gravy Train every time he spots what he deems to be wasteful spending, while he actively participates in the family business that does business with this city, that profits from its business with the city. Regardless of the amount involved or the arms length distance he might have from the deal as mayor. It reeks of hypocrisy and a conflict of interest. The mayor is either a public servant or a private business man. If those two worlds overlap as they do with the city of Toronto and Deco Labels and Tags, he has to decide which one he’s going to be.

It’s time to shit or get off the pot, Mr. Mayor.

decidedly submitted by Cityslikr