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Lawrence David, the full-time oyster shucker and part-time Conscience of the City, proffers this pearl as he passes the Union Station file on to Mr. Justice Coulter Osborne, provincial Integrity Commissioner, the latest high-priced professional who likely will be called in to rescue Mel Lastman's city hall from the rising red tide of half a dozen juicy scandals on the half shell: "Never impute criminal intent where stupidity will suffice."

Such are the thoughts that arise as senior city shredders -- er, staff -- declaim their innocence and defend the self-proclaimed mistake of destroying documents relating to the controversial selection of Insiders Inc. to redevelop the station -- and essentially to own it for the next 100 years.

The more we learn about the process, the stupider it looks -- and nothing could be stupider than ongoing attempts to keep basic information about the competing proposals secret.

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What we already know about this ill-fated Request for Proposals -- managed by Joan Anderton, corporate-services commissioner, along with upstanding lawyer Patricia Simpson, the Rose Mary Woods of Toronto City Hall -- makes the aborted Adams Mine garbage deal in Northern Ontario look slick.

But there is a catch in the shucker's law, to the effect that one person's stupidity is often another's opportunity.

At city hall, stupidity and willful blindness go together like tall grass and tigers.

It only took a few choice questions in pubic session -- to say nothing of the ongoing brawl city council began in private yesterday afternoon -- to give the Integrity Commissioner a whole mess of meaty issues to consider with respect to the Union Pearson Group's provisional victory in the struggle for Union Station.

Many centre on the dense network of relationships linking the proponents to city hall and the consultants used to help manage and evaluate the proposal. Most notorious is the relationship between Larry Tanenbaum, a leading member of the consortium, and Dale Lastman, the mayor's son.

Although Dale Lastman is a close adviser to Mr. Tanenbaum and serves on the board of the steel-and-sports magnate's holding company, his father never declared a conflict because Dale never worked directly for the new consortium. He declared the conflict in the immediate aftermath of the shredding, two months after Mr. Tanenbaum placed his son on the board of Borealis Funds, a member of Union Pearson Group.

In any case, the mayor has barely let up his ceaseless promotion of the "cleaner-than-clean" Union Station process, which his office (beginning with the ministrations of former aide Vince Nigro) appears to have taken a special interest in expediting.

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That's just the start of it. No wonder Judge Osborne, the Integrity Commissioner, insisted he would need unlimited time and ample scope to conduct his ethical review when first approached about the assignment.

And if he wants context -- something this debate badly needs right now -- he might pause to consider the impressive scaffolding that currently surrounds the clock tower of Old City Hall, Toronto's other great stone monument.

The amalgamated city has spent tens of millions of dollars over the last few years restoring the exterior of that magnificent but crumbling pile.

The almost-completed contract to restore the clock tower alone is worth $17-million.

That is $1-million more than the total public benefit embodied in the 100-year Union Station lease.

The lessees plan to make many other improvements, building boutiques and a hotel, which if successful could yield more rent to the city than current tenants pay.

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But the basic, bird-in-hand, bottom-line public benefit in this 100-year deal is no more than $16-million for historical restoration.

The Lastman party -- what's left of it -- says we have to give away Union Station for 100 years because there's just no way taxpayers can afford to restore it.

But the same council is spending many times more than $16-million restoring Old City Hall -- paying cash on the barrel.

Is this crazy, as the mayor is wont to ask, or what? jbarber@globeandmail.ca

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