How much does it cost to buy access to Toronto Mayor David Miller?
As obnoxious as it may be to speculate on such matters -- after all, our mayor is unquestionably a man of integrity, a new broom who is sweeping the moneylenders out of our civic temple and was unhappy last Saturday to discover who he was having dinner with -- close observers can't afford to ignore the developing market.
Last Saturday, for instance, they would have observed veteran City Hall lobbyist Arthur Potts, who paid $4,500 for a chance to dine with the mayor and his wife at the Air Canada Centre, courtesy of Leafs owner Larry Tanenbaum, and afterward to take in a Blackhawks game with His and Her Worships at the No. 1 private box in Canada's national shrine of professional schmooze.
Mr. Potts, son of legendary local Liberal Judge Joe Potts and an active party hack in his own right, now helping Liberal MP Dennis Mills face New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton in the coming Donnybrook of the Danforth, established the new benchmark at a public auction at this year's Dragon Ball, a lavish banquet organized every year by well-known physician Joseph Wong to raise money for his Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care.
The Miller-Tanenbaum hockey treat was just one of several items and opportunities that guests at the ball, who paid $380 each for their seats, bid on over the course of the evening.
So thanks to Mr. Potts -- who lobbies at City Hall on behalf of the Ontario beer industry, the company that hauls Toronto's garbage to Michigan, a certain Israeli waste management firm and the Open Shop Contractors Association -- the Yee Hong centre is now $4,500 richer.
And Mayor Miller is squirming in the same trap that caused such trouble for so many politicians and officials of the departed Lastman regime.
At the same arena where Wanda Liczyk, Dash Domi, Jim Andrew, Tom Jakobek and other Lastman-era "stakeholders" lapped up corporate largesse -- or "graciously accepted" it, as Mr. Andrew, former city information-technology director and unrepentant freebie king, said at the inquiry.
But none of them actually got inside Larry Tanenbaum's box. As well as being the only guest at the formal Dragon Ball to wear a Scottish kilt, Mr. Potts is an amiable and well-liked fixture at City Hall.
He jokes that he was forced to bid on the hockey package in order to keep Mr. Miller out of the hands of "all those dirty lobbyists."
But the mayor is certainly not amused. "Teach me a lesson," he said yesterday when questioned about the transaction, adding that he would prefer citizens not to know what he muttered under his breath last Saturday night when he learned that he had fallen into the arms of Mr. Potts.
But he is keen to point out that the so-called open-shop contractors represented by the lobbyist experience twice the level of industrial accidents as union contractors.
The two figures will have ample opportunity to settle their differences at next Tuesday's game. But in the meantime, Mr. Miller and city council will make an important decision on the validity of such relationships when they debate whether or not to kill the continuing public inquiry that has shed such light on the Lastman-era schmooze fests.
Its critics have long complained that the MFP inquiry wasted millions of dollars investigating largely innocent practices that are perfectly normal in the business world. Nobody can be bought with a few hockey tickets, they contend. The arguments will almost certainly be revisited -- and may even carry the day for the first time -- when council determines the fate of the inquiry this week.
Mr. Miller scored a major and ultimately decisive political victory when, as a councillor, he forced the Lastmanites to agree to an inquiry in the first place. His views on its future will become known later this week. No matter what he decides, however, the tickets will no doubt keep flowing. The municipal favour bank may change management from time to time, but it never goes out of business.