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Community-housing scandal a gift from the gods for Ford

Call him Lucky Rob. Since he took office three months ago, almost everything has gone Mayor Ford's way. A weak, nervous provincial government is bowing to his wish to kill the Transit City light-rail project and ban strikes by transit workers. Intimidated city councillors have voted with him to cut their own office budgets, end the car tax and enact an ill-considered one-year tax freeze.

Now along comes Toronto Community Housing Corp. to ice the cake. Though the mayor and his brother Doug put on grave faces on Monday, the TCHC mess is a gift from the gods for the Fords. They ran for office on the claim that the city administration was absolutely riddled with foolish waste. Well, folks, here it is!

Thanks to the nitwits who thought it was okay to hand out massages and chocolates to employees, the Fords can now claim that their simplistic answer to all the city's problems - just "stop the gravy train" - is correct after all.

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It isn't, of course. As awful as it is to see public officials squander precious resources this way, pampering themselves as public-housing tenants wait to get broken windows replaced or graffiti removed, most don't spend their days having their nails done.

The city's money problems don't come from luxury-loving bureaucrats and lavish Christmas parties. The real sources - like strong unions, arbitrated wage settlements, a strapped provincial government, a costly big-city transit system - are more complicated and harder to change.

But Mayor Ford doesn't believe it. He insists he can cut hundreds of millions from the city budget simply by rooting out frivolous spending. To him, the TCHC scandal is sweet vindication of his 10 years as a one-note city councillor. "If I've said it once, I've said it thousands of times," the mayor said on Monday, perhaps underestimating for once, "we have a spending problem not a revenue problem."

Brother Doug, meanwhile, made it clear that he would use the TCHC story as a club to beat councillors who dare to deny the existence of a gravy train. "Our friends down in council are wondering where the gravy is," he said. "We're just scraping the surface."

"Believe it or not," he continued, warming to the subject, "there are councillors down here who believe there is no waste. They think the answer is just to increase taxes and turn a blind eye to this. Because obviously they turned a blind eye for seven years. And it's going to stop. I promise you it will stop."

In fact, no one on city council turned a blind eye to this. Councillors on the left are genuinely dismayed at events at TCHC, not just because the spending was so clueless and irresponsible but because the mess could undermine support for public housing. The leadership at TCHC is dismayed, too. Chief executive Keiko Nakamura admitted her organization had failed in its duty to spend public money wisely.

That was not enough for Mayor Ford, who hinted he might fire her and called for the resignations of all the non-political members of the housing board, who had nothing to do with approving the spending and probably never knew about it. That's the Ford approach: crack a few heads, cut the waste and everything will come right.

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Even amid all the justified outrage over what happened at TCHC, it's hard to see how the hang-'em-high atmosphere helps anyone. The agency needs reform, that much is clear from the spending abuse. But is such abuse rampant throughout the city government? Is it proof that the mythical gravy train really exists? Is this sort of silly extravagance the root cause of the city's woes? No, no and no.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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