Privatized Parts

March 4, 2010

The Toronto Star’s headline for March 3rd declares: Smitherman Backs Privatization.

Inside, the news reads as little more than a minor, almost imperceptible bump up in enthusiasm for privatization than the candidate’s been touting previously despite the article hyping it as his “first substantive policy pronouncement” of the campaign. According to Smitherman, “… any moves to outsource city services would be carefully reviewed,” which I guess makes him the prudent candidate versus opponent Rocco Rossi’s wild-eyed, stock floor trader panicked approach to the selling of city assets and privatization of services.

In actual fact, the respective platforms of Smitherman and Rossi range all the way from point A to point A, essentially coming down to the difference between gutting the city mercilessly versus gutting it mercifully. And where to put bike lanes. Two peas in a pod, really; worse and worser. If you’re a big fan of privatization it’s a happy choice that comes down to how you want to slice up the pie.

One of those big fans of privatization is — surprise, surprise — Smitherman’s chief fundraiser, Ralph Lean QC. As noted previously, Mr. Lean is partial to, at least, “examining” the idea of “outsourcing some city functions.” A point of preference which contributed to the falling out Lean had with Mayor Miller last September just before Miller announced he would not run for re-election in 2010. As George Smitherman publicly signals an open mind toward privatization, it seems he may be more attuned than the outgoing mayor to the wishes of his chief fundraiser.

So what, you say. Surely it’s not unusual for a candidate to share political views with the people working on his campaign. It would seem wrong for anyone to go out and solicit money for a candidate whose views they don’t believe in, wouldn’t it? Hypocritical. Cynical, even.

Yet reading through Ralph Lean’s CV from an article posted on his law firm’s website, over the past decade or so he’s been retained as a lobbyist for American firms interested in the state of outsourcing such varied government functions as prisons and tax collection. It makes Lean’s interest in the areas of privatization and outsourcing seem less political and more.. personal. As Smitherman slowly but deliberately drifts toward a more accepting view on the topic, one wonders who’s calling the shots in his campaign.

And if George Smitherman is elected mayor of Toronto in October and hopes to keep the job for a little while, say, at least a second term that would garner him both national and international coverage when the city hosts the 2015 PanAm games, he would do well to learn from his predecessor’s one fatal misstep. Defy Ralph Lean QC at your peril.

See George. See George Jump.

“There are outsourcing salesmen,” Smitherman explains in the Toronto Star article, “and I run into them all over the place [italics ours], who have advanced this idea that outsourcing in and of itself is some panacea. My experiences are different … It’s intensely risky to have a discussion whereby the quality of the service being provided to the citizen is set aside and the fiscal piece is advanced. I am saying we need to look at outsourcing where it makes sense, given the state of the city’s finances, while protecting our citizens.”

“I will be their protector.”

Don’t worry citizens of Toronto, Smitherman assures us when it comes to outsourcing and privatization, as mayor he’ll have our back. Small comfort we should take from that when we consider that Ralph Lean QC has the ear of George Smitherman.

Cassandraly submitted by Cityslikr