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Bromell's legacy: pioneering work as political bully

Craig Bromell may be retiring, but he's staying on message. And as usual, the message in the mouth of Toronto's most notorious police constable, the self-confessed bully and always dangerous political blunderbuss, is blunt and infuriating. To wit:

I won.

The message is infuriating because it is so obviously correct. Leaving aside Mr. Bromell's pioneering work in political intimidation, the three contracts he negotiated on behalf of his union's 7,000 members established him indisputably as the most successful labour leader in Canada.

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Especially the last contract, quietly concluded on the eve of the city workers' strike this summer. "It's the richest contract that's ever been given out to police officers on a dollar value right across the country," Mr. Bromell pointed out in a recent interview. "It's worth anywhere from $50- to $60-million."

The fearsome bully almost began to purr as he recited the juicy provisions that will give police officers, depending on their seniority, raises of 14, 17 and 20 per cent over the next three years.

"We ended up with a pretty good pension, and our rights are second to none," he continued. "And we're the highest paid police in the country, up from 12th in the province when I started in 1997."

He's not just satisfied; even Craig Bromell admits to being "surprised" at the latest bonanza.

It underscores one of the most remarkable shifts in local politics since the birth of the megacity: While provincial consultants predicted $50-million in annual savings as a result of amalgamation, the police budget has actually grown by $90-million over the past five years, the equivalent of a 9-per-cent tax increase. (Program cuts in other areas have produced net tax hikes of about half that in recent years.)

Mr. Bromell and his executive commanded a good chunk of that cash in part by pressing hard in negotiations, rather than depending on arbitration. "Before I got up here, we had one negotiated contract in 20 years, and since '97 I've had three," he said.

And, as it turned out, police boards dominated by the likes of Mayor Mel Lastman, lobbyist Jeffrey Lyons and gunslinger Norm Gardner responded readily to the pressure. "I mean there's always somebody on the other side," Mr. Bromell said, almost sheepishly. "I guess they just agreed with us at the time."

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Clearly they did. But others offer an additional interpretation for Mr. Bromell's success. "It's all because of his bullying," charged city councillor Olivia Chow. "He likes to be called a bully. He admits to being a bully. It summarizes his approach."

Mr. Bromell accepted the bully label during a television interview in which he discussed his association's campaign to "target our enemies" -- defined as any politician his association considered to be "an enemy of the police" -- and try to get them kicked out of office. "All the other loudmouths, they're going to keep their mouths shut."

Mr. Bromell now claims that he never intimidated anybody -- the media made all that up, he said -- but he admits having taken advantage of the image. "We just sat back and really benefited about what was being said about us, and we didn't have to say anything or do anything," he said.

The notorious True Blue fundraising campaign, shut down under intense political pressure, was no failure, according to Mr. Bromell; in fact, it was a crucial victory.

"That's what did it for us," he said.

"It really made us powerful among the members."

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Even though the association was forced to halt the True Blue campaign, in which motorists were encouraged to demonstrate their fealty to the police with expensive window stickers, the association remains highly active politically -- making donations, offering endorsements and financing lawsuits against various loudmouths.

And who can say it's not working?

"At the end of the day we ended up getting exactly the results we wanted, and we were very successful at it," Mr. Bromell said.

"You just can't take that away."

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