Wheeling And Dealing

February 25, 2015

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


The Toryfication of Fordism

February 23, 2015

corporateloveI guess if you’re born and bred in the lap of corporate exegesis, your family, almost the very definition of Bay Street lawyerliness and a career spent near the helm of a private sector titan, it would be impossible for you to imagine any downside to a philanthropic hand-out to help out the city in a time of need. You want to keep some skating rinks open for the rest of the winter? Show me the money.

It’s just what good corporate citizens do. Strings attached? Come on. Stop being so cynical. Quid pro quo? I don’t even know what that means. Buyer beware?

So when it became known again this year that some city run skating rinks would be closing for the season yesterday (skating rinks, closing on February 23rd, February 23rd), noveltychequeMayor John Tory quickly flipped through his batphone rolodex and found two willing corporations happy to do their part. Green 4 Life and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment both cut the mayor a cheque for $100,000, thereby keeping the doors to an additional 12 rinks open until spring officially arrives in town. 3 cheers for the good guys! Hip-hip-hooray, etc., etc.

The mayor didn’t seem to so much as pause to consider the, I don’t know, optics, let alone implications of such a financial arrangement. Both companies have fairly substantial dealings with the city. murkyGreen 4 Life is the private contractor that collects nearly half of Toronto’s trash and recycling. It’s not exactly been a smooth relationship, and with the possibility of opening up the rest of the city to private bidding in the near future, the company may well factor into that as well. MLSE just secured a $10 million loan from the city to renovate BMO stadium, home to the TFC soccer team, owned by, you guessed it, MSLE which itself is substantially owned by telecom behemoth, Rogers, a company the mayor was recently some sort of director mucky-muck of and remains as part of the Rogers family trust. In fact, Mayor Tory had to step outside council chambers during December’s meeting due to a vote on an MLSE owned restaurant.

So you start to get a sense of the murkiness of all this. But wait. There’s more.

Over at Spacing today, John Lorinc writes of a one-on-one meeting between the mayor and the CEO smelltest(and Tory campaign donor) and head of government relations of Bell Inc. just this past January to discuss the ‘unhelpful boilerplate’ of the city’s lobbyist registry. Bell, another telecom giant, is also a co-owner of MLSE, owner of TFC, blah, blah, blah, see two paragraphs above. According to Lorinc, no one has said whether these rink donations were run by any of the city’s oversight and accountability officers to see if they, at the very least, passed some sort of smell test. It’s all been very much, these are friends of Mayor Tory, and any friend of the mayor’s is a friend of the city.

Lorinc writes:

It’s also possible that Tory, who has spent his entire adult/professional life functioning in that rarefied world where corporate, social and philanthropic circles intersect, is simply doing what comes naturally, so to speak – making big money asks of prominent donors and networks of well-connected executives.

“Doing what comes naturally”. Rather than figure out a way to deal with the city’s structural fiscal deficit that leads annually to these sort of funding shortfalls, Mayor Tory makes a couple phone calls to those dwelling in the “corporate, social and philanthropic circles” he’s been running in all his life. Leadership means knowing how to make that big corporate ask and having the connections to be able to do it.

Why bother asking hardworking taxpayers to pay to run their city properly wgladhandinghen the private sector will chip in around the edges?

I think we’ve already reached that point in John Tory’s mayoralty when we get to start asking, What would be the reaction if Rob Ford did this? If, while serving as mayor, Rob Ford cuddled up to a major private provider of a city’s service and asked for some money to help keep rinks open? What if Rob Ford tapped a company he had more than a passing interest in, and that also had a financial relationship with the city, for a little spending cash to help the city out?

What if Rob Ford tried to pull off an unorthodox financial manoeuvre, like the current mayor is attempting to do, in order to balance the operating budget and avoid a serious discussion about revenue tools? A move even the city’s CFO admitted last week was going to cost more in the long run than if we simply adjusted the property tax rate to cover the $86 million budget hole now.

My guess is there’d be a little more vocal pushback. It’s not so much that Mayor Tory is operating with a bit of a honeymoon halo, given the benefit of doubt and a little more time on the job. twofacesHe convinced us throughout the campaign that he was a sound businessman with a sound understanding of numbers. Prudent, he’d be. Fiscally mindful and wise.

Except that, what we’ve seen so far is little more than an attempted institutionalisation of the Ford low tax, more efficiencies, anti-government mantra. The city has a spending not a revenue problem with a nicer haircut. An uncomfortable cozying up to the private sector and special interests who make money from the city and give money to the elected officials who help facilitate that transaction.

It’s simply Rob Ford with better pedigree and a more extensive rolodex. You can try and mask it with a nice cologne but the stink doesn’t really go away.

disapprovingly submitted by Cityslikr