Are you one of those people who say they don’t care what Rob Ford does in his personal life? What about his work life, then? Would it bother you to learn that he was, say, lobbying senior city hall officials to give a tax break to a client of his family firm?
That is the thrust of a report by The Globe and Mail’s Greg McArthur and Elizabeth Church. They discovered that Mr. Ford and his brother, City Councillor Doug Ford, personally and persistently intervened on behalf of Apollo Health and Beauty Care, a soap and shampoo company that does business with the Fords’ Deco Labels and Tags.
The Fords went straight to the top. They called in City Manager Joe Pennachetti, Toronto’s lead civil servant, who oversees an operating budget of $9.6-billion. Without telling him Apollo was a client, Councillor Ford summoned him to an impromptu meeting in the mayor’s boardroom to hear a pitch from Apollo’s chairman for the property-tax break. Although Mr. Pennachetti eventually decided that Apollo did not qualify for the exceptional break, he spent lots of his valuable time dealing with the issue.
Later, the mayor himself summoned top city officials to deal with another Apollo matter: the company’s alleged role in a sewage spill. Deputy City Manager John Livey had to handle this one, again without being told that Apollo was a Ford client.
With his usual bluster, Councillor Ford dismisses the Globe story and accuses the paper of going on a witch hunt. But the danger of the kind of intervention we saw here is obvious. Public officials cannot go around lobbying for their business clients. It might leave the impression they are using their influence for personal gain. Even if the Fords never got a single extra cent from Apollo for their lobbying help, it is the sort of glaring conflict that opens the door to money-for-favours funny business at city hall.
Mayor Ford, of all people, should know this. Before he became mayor, Mayor Ford was the scold of city council, taking fellow councillors to task for buying office coffee machines, holding lavish farewell parties and ordering sandwich plates for evening meetings. Yet, it became clear early in his term as mayor that he himself was exploiting his position for personal advantage.
The Globe reported in 2012 that he was using government-paid staffers to help run the football teams he was coaching. The paper also reported that he had pressed city staff to expedite road work outside the Deco premises in Etobicoke so it would be done in time for the company’s 50th anniversary. Last fall, police documents (never tested in court) that emerged as part of the Ford crack affair contained allegations that this champion of the taxpayer was even asking government-paid staffers to do personal errands such as buying cartons of cigarettes and replacing batteries in his children’s toys.
Imagine if David Miller, the mayor before Mayor Ford, had been caught using city resources for some private hobby or lobbying city staff on behalf of a client. The old Mr. Ford would have screamed blue murder.
But that was the past, and the past, was we all know, is the past. The man who always sold himself as a straight-shooting, authentic, everyday guy – “there’s no phoniness. I am what I am and I’m sincere,” he told CNN in November – turned out to be practising something different than he preached.
The tough-on-crime backer of our boys in blue was drinking and driving, consorting with criminal types, dodging police surveillance and cursing the police chief.
The hardest-working mayor in the world was rolling in to work at noon, showing up late for events and spending hours with his dubious friends.
The foe of special interests and inside deals was making city staff jump through hoops for company clients.
It is not the drinking and the drug use that rankles most about the Rob Ford mess. It is not the vulgar talk or the ethnic slurs or disorderly behaviour. It is not even the dishonesty and deception. It is the hypocrisy.