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(Fred Lum)
(Fred Lum)

Marcus Gee

'Straight shooter' Ford off the mark on Tuggs deal Add to ...

Rob Ford styles himself as the decent, straight-shooting little guy who cuts through the guff down at city hall. But before you fall for that line and vote Mr. Ford for mayor, answer this: Does a nice guy smear the reputation of a hard-working local businessman? Does an honourable man throw around unfounded charges of corruption? Does a decent man refuse to say he is sorry when he has gone too far? For that is exactly what Mr. Ford has done in the case of George Foulidis and the Boardwalk Pub.

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Mr. Foulidis’s family came to Canada from Greece in the 1960s and ran a restaurant in Stouffville. In 1986 they won a city competition to set up a restaurant at Woodbine Beach. Mr. Foulidis’s whole family was involved – his father, his brother, his uncle – and they put heart and soul into the business.

When the end of his 20-year contract with the city approached, Mr. Foulidis made a proposal: extend our lease and we will spend our own money to upgrade. Local councillor Sandra Bussin supported him. On May 12, after more than three years of talks, council approved a deal that will see the Foulidis’s Tuggs Inc. pay $4.7-million in rent to the city in a contract that goes to 2028.

That should have been the end of the story, but this is an election year, and Mr. Ford has jumped to a lead by bashing city hall. He says the Tuggs deal “stinks to high heaven.” When an outraged Mayor David Miller demanded that he produce proof, he insisted “I think it was corruption.”

Suddenly, Mr. Foulidis found his reputation under a shadow. His kids (aged 10, 11 and 14) asked him: “Why are they saying those things, daddy? Did we do something wrong?” Some long-time customers stopped coming to the Boardwalk Pub. Protesters picketed the restaurant. A Bussin rival held a news conference outside to denounce the terms of the Tuggs deal.

On Thursday, an aggrieved Mr. Foulidis fought back, threatening to sue Mr. Ford for defamation unless he apologizes. “Mr. Ford has accused our business and family of corruption,” he told reporters. “Those are very serious allegations; they are irresponsible and reckless; they are false, they are lies and with a political agenda.”

It is hard not to feel for him. Mr. Ford has blackened Mr. Foulidis’s good name without producing a crumb of evidence. After news of Mr. Foulidis’s lawsuit on Thursday, he refused to do the right thing and offer an apology, leaving a cloud over the businessman and his family.

Far from being a corrupt arrangement, the Tuggs deal appears to be a pretty good one for the city. Tuggs will pay $2.2-million more than it did in the last 20-year contract. The $4.7-million total is $1-million less than Tuggs’s original offer, but mainly because the city refused to go along with Tuggs’s pitch for greater advertising and sponsorship rights. The city will get to own the building at the end of the contract. In the meantime Tuggs will invest in landscaping and other improvements. How many tenants renovate their home for the landlord?

Critics have denounced the city for declining to seek other bids for the boardwalk concession, but if Tuggs was doing a reasonable job and the city could renew the deal for higher rent, why not? As for Mr. Ford’s charge of backroom dealing, the whole Tuggs affair has been debated extensively at city council. Only a final session was held in camera, and then only because council is legally prohibited from discussing some contractual matters in public.

Even if you think the Tuggs deal was a bad bargain for the city – and some councillors do – that doesn’t make it corrupt. Mr. Foulidis admits contributing to one of Ms. Bussin’s past election campaigns (though not this one), but calls that his democratic right. He was contributing to his local councillor, not passing envelopes of cash around city hall.

Mr. Ford himself accepted a $200 contribution in 2006 from Woodbine Entertainment. He later spoke out for the company’s Woodbine Live development in northwest Toronto. Does that make him corrupt?

Mr. Ford would be furious at the charge, yet he refuses to withdraw the slur on Mr. Foulidis. Is this the work of a straight shooter?

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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