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

One More Kick At The TCHC Can

March 1, 2011

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

Politics’ Raging Id

August 4, 2010

Here’s some news that’s not really news unless you’re simply pimping out your services for the cause of right wing reactionary outrage:

Councillors’ office tab — $500,000 and counting

According to the Toronto Sun, profligate city councillors are madly spending all our hard earned tax dollars before the next council takes its place after the October 25th municipal election. Halfway through the year and they’ve already spent half a million dollars. Wow! That’s a lot of money and displays the powerful but empty gesture of throwing around absolute numbers.

As the Sun article noted, after a vote to reduce their office budgets this year by 5% to $46,241.25, council members have already spent $500,000 between them. That would be about, well, 44 X $46,241.25 = $2,034,615. And, $500,000 ÷ $2,034,615 = 25%. So really, the story should read that, halfway through their last year, members of city council have only spent a quarter of their office budgets. Signs of Restraint, perhaps?

Not at the Toronto Sun and other organs of right wing ideological thought, apparently. When contacted by the paper about the alleged orgy of spending, Rob Ford stated that he was “disgusted”. Well, there’s a surprise. Rob Ford “disgusted” by spending at City Hall. The man is nothing if not consistent in his varying shades of dyspepticism. Team Ford then Tweeted: Proud to have spent the least of your money at City Hall. A sentiment that can be just as easily understood as: Proud to have spent the least amount of time and energy trying to further the interests of the city I serve.

Before readers can examine the article’s numbers too closely the Sun quickly moves the focus onto 3 councillors it loves to disparage. Joey Pants spent nearly 2K “sprucing up his constituency website” but clearly it’s nothing more than in aid of his mayoral aspirations. Then, naturally, there’s the matter of Kyle Rae’s retirement party. The Party. The Gay Communist Party. And Adam Giambrone is particularly targeted for doling out nearly 3 grand for French lessons. French lessons! As a councillor here in Toronto!No matter that Giambrone pointed out that he is “… the city’s representative at AFMO (an association of French municipalities in Ontario)” and is “a member of the French committee” and does “the media in French”. We all, right thinking tax payers know what’s really going on. He’s planning a run at federal politics and official bilingualism is a prerequisite. “He’s using taxpayers’ money to benefit himself,” Ford blustered.

Cue the righteous indignation. No questions asked about when Giambrone took his French lessons. Before his career at City Hall went up in smoke earlier this year? Maybe he thought that a bilingual mayor, even here deep in Anglo Ontario, wasn’t a terrible idea. But does it really matter to the likes of Rob Ford and his tribe? They recognize an opportunity to exploit bad optics when the Toronto Sun hands them one.

Which is what the right wing does best, thrive on bad optics, horribly disfigured through the prism of their skewed lenses. Optics and the mangling of them is all modern conservative thinkers have to go on anymore. Anything to turn on the venomous spigot of voter anger and misdirect it at the shadowy arch-enemy: government. They’re the bad guys. The cause of all that is wrong in society today. Government, and their taxes and spending and regulating and paving of roads and stitching together of a social safety net that picks the pockets of hard working taxpayers like you and me who don’t need anything from the government but to be left alone, dammit!

There is much to be done to set this city back on a healthy course again. Nickelling and diming councillors isn’t one of them. That’s a minor matter for small minds; those unable to imagine bigger things or brave enough to tilt at bigger windmills. Rob Ford is their Don Quixote (despite having an appearance more in line with Sancho Panza). Except the cause is far from noble. It is trite, petty, vindictive and reveals little more than a destructive streak that serves no purpose outside of satisfying inarticulate rage. Nothing good ever comes of that.

cervantesly submitted by Cityslikr

Another Debate, Same Old Tune

July 21, 2010

With another televised mayoral debate under our collective belts, I do not think it hyperbolic (in the non-mathematical sense) to say that this city is now facing a crisis of confidence, leadership confidence. What seemed funny back in March became mirthlessly laughable by May. Now, more than mid-way through July and it’s simply just sad. And a little bit worrisome.

Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

At moments like these, I try to settle my rattled nerves by knocking back a few stiff belts of Woodford Reserve over an a.m. bowl of honey coated Shreddies and convince myself that if we made it through the Mel Lastman years, hell, we can make it through anything. We are that strong. We are that resilient.

But this feels a little different, and not in a ticklish, I kind of like it way. It’s more ominous and disheartening. Thirteen years into this experiment we call the amalgamated city and it seems like we’ve learned nothing, processed no information, become none the wiser through the experience of past accomplishments and mistakes. Those endeavouring to assume Toronto’s top office have surveyed the landscape, examined the books and come to the exhaustive conclusion that what ails us most is a… spending problem.

It’s all about out of control, unaccountable, retirement party spending. End of discussion. Full stop. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone. Vote For Me!

To give Councillor/Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone his due, he did try offering up a variation on the theme. (No, not his charts.) He raised the spectre of tax revenue inequality among the various levels of government, pointing out that for every tax dollar a Toronto resident spends, 92 cents of it leaves the city on its way to either Ottawa or Queen’s Park but it was a conversation the others didn’t want to have. Pantalone was summarily shouted down by all 4 of the others, braying in unison: We have a spending problem!

That’s it. The full extent of the conversation. The alpha and omega of the debate. A paucity of thoughtful, provocative ideas and views, best exemplified by Rocco Rossi. I know you thought I was going to say Rob Ford but what would be the point? He’s a Johnny One-Note that only surprises by his extraordinary ability to bring every issue, regardless of how irrelevant and beside the point back to Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans on cutting 22 council seats. Anyone who attended the party is gone.

Yet in his own way, Rossi’s no better. He might not turn as beet red as Ford but he manages to spout similarly inane nonsense. Near the end of last night’s debate, he looked into the camera and bludgeoned us with the power of absolute numbers, saying that the present mayor inherited a 6 point something billion dollar operating budget and this year? (Stare deep into my eyes those out there in TV land and listen to the gravity I summon in my baritone voice.) 9 point 2 billion dollars.

Wow. That’s a lot of money. We really do have a spending prob—Wait a second. Might there be any explanation for such a significant rise in expenditure? Let’s see, for the past 18 months, 2 years, there’s been that little recession thing. The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression with government expenditures at all levels exploding in order to head off an even bigger calamity. So there was that. Plus Transit City, the largest expansion of public transportation in Toronto for decades, making up for previous regimes’ neglect and building those bridges Mr. Rossi talks so movingly about to underserved areas of the city. A little cash outlay was needed for that.

The spendthrift argument Rossi et al put forward de-contextualizes the situation, pulling Toronto out of the reality it operates in for purely political purposes. No real viable solutions are put up on offer. Just hot button topics to raise the hackles of outrage among the electorate.

So whatever audience there is for the debate tunes in, turns off and drops out. We’ve been hearing the same drivel for 6 months now and we’re not biting. Sure, Ford’s made a splash upon entry but he basically siphoned support away from the others. The largest number still remains in the undecided column. The prix fixe doesn’t do it for me. Can I order a la carte, s’il vous plais?

Unfortunately the media maitre d’ remains firm. This is the slate of candidates we gave you, dammit, pick one of these! Given the opportunity of Giorgio Mammoliti’s exit from the mayoral race to open up the field of choice, CP24 declined last night. Brushing off calls to include Mammoliti’s pick to replace him, Rocco Achampong, they said winnowing the debate down to 5 would help simplify things as if they weren’t already doing that with Ben Mulroney MCing the proceedings.

This led to accusations of racism since Achampong is black and every one of the front runners is white. Let’s try and, if not represent the diversity of the city here, at least make a passing nod to it. While not ignoring that point, I do think that it’s part of a bigger problem at work here.

We are a small organization and yet over the course of the last few months have uncovered 5 or 6 other candidates running for mayor who are at least worth a first look at. Some aren’t white, some are. None are saying anything crazier than Rob Ford; all are talking a lot more sense. If we can find them certainly big news gathering conglomerates like CP24 or CTV or CBC or the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun can too. Talk to them. Interview them. Introduce them to the public. That is your job after all, is it not?

Here, let me give you a list of names to get you started: there’s Rocco Achampong. (Check the spelling though.) HiMY SYeD. (Ditto.) Sonny Yeung. (Pronounced just like our main north-south street.) Keith Cole. (He’s gay just like George Smitherman.) George Babula. Andrew Barton. Wendell Brereton. Colin Magee.

These candidates are only fringe because you guys declared them so. Well, given those who you said weren’t and who were on display on CP24 again last night, I’m not sure we should trust your judgment on this. We’re not liking what we’re seeing and suggest it’s time to turn the channel. Or at least, give us more to choice to choose from. What we are seeing here is the deliberate muffling of democracy and the handcuffing of voters. A prospect even more frightening than a Mayor Rob Ford.

End of discussion. Full stop.

ire drawingly submitted by Cityslikr