One of Toronto city council's most vocal opponents of the ride-sharing app Uber received thousands of dollars in donations leading up to last year's election from the taxicab industry, The Globe and Mail has found.
An examination by The Globe and Mail of the 2014 municipal election expenses found that one councillor on the licensing committee, Jim Karygiannis, received at least $7,600 – almost 10 per cent of his campaign spending – from people with ties to the taxi industry. Since his election to council, the former federal member of parliament has been lobbied by at least one of those donors on taxi-related issues.
Participating in matters related to the interests of donors is not against council's code of conduct. Mr. Karygiannis said in an interview that donations do not affect his views, and that his safety and insurance concerns about Uber predate the campaign. Toronto's taxi industry has long been lobbying City Hall against allowing the Silicon Valley based company, which skirts regulations and is the target of ongoing legal action by the City of Toronto.
"You think $7,000 makes a difference to me?" he said. "It doesn't change my mind. I've been at it too long to be influenced by a couple of bucks." Mr. Karygiannis raised about $80,000 for the October campaign.
Neither the council code of conduct nor the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act specifically address the behaviour of councillors in dealing with donors, integrity commissioner Valerie Jepson said, and each case would be judged individually.
After moving to City Hall in December, Mr. Karygiannis was appointed to the licensing and standards committee – which deals with taxi regulations– and has been outspoken on taxi issues, particularly on Uber and reviewing last year's taxi licensing reforms. At council last week, he put forward a motion asking to remove the Uber app from city staff phones.
And Mr. Karygiannis' behaviour at a raucous taxi licensing committee meeting last month earned him the censure of Mayor John Tory. "It was a disgrace," Mr. Tory told reporters at the time.
Mr. Karygiannis' donors include taxi plate owners, members of the Toronto Taxi Alliance, and senior officials at cab companies including Diamond Taxi and Co-op Cabs – many of them from outside Toronto.
At least one donor, Co-Op Cabs CEO Peter Zahakos, has since registered to lobby Mr. Karygiannis and others on taxi licensing. Mr. Zahakos, who contributed $300 to Mr. Karygiannis' campaign, has met with the councillor four times since January, according to the lobbyist registry.
"Peter and I have been friends for 30 years," Mr. Karygiannis said. "Peter has volunteered on every one of my campaigns. ... What am I going to say? Peter can't help me because he's involved in the industry?"
Mr. Zahakos said his donations are personal decisions. "I've been donating for years," he said. "These are people that I've known for years. Will they listen to me? Maybe they won't … You're telling me the lousy $300 is going to convince someone to vote the way they should?"
Mr. Zahakos also contributed to the campaigns of Glenn De Baeremaeker and Cesar Palacio, members of the previous and current licensing committee.
Kristine Hubbard – a Beck Taxi operations manager who contributed $750 to Mr. Palacio's campaign, and whose family contributed $1,500 – said the donations are not an organized effort but a response to council's reform last year of taxi licensing. "These people are constituents, just like everyone else … council made all these rules, so it doesn't surprise me that people would say, 'Hold on, maybe we should be getting more involved.'"
Mr. Palacio, who chairs the committee, received more than $5,000 in donations from members of the taxicab industry – more than 10 per cent of his spending.
"I don't know who the donors are. In my campaign, I don't deal with that," Mr. Palacio said. "And more than anything else, that would never have any influence over me, whatsoever."
Under elections rules, individuals (not corporations) donate up to $750. Many of the donations made to Mr. Karygiannis and Mr. Palacio came from individuals in the taxi industry – and others who live with them. In one case, 12 people with the same last name and address – a two-storey brick house in Vaughan owned by an official with Diamond Taxi – contributed a total of $3,600 to Mr. Karygiannis' campaign.
In response to the taxi industry donations, Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath wrote in an e-mail: "We invest our resources into connecting people with the safest, most reliable and affordable rides on the road...Uber is firmly committed to continuing to work with elected officials to develop common sense regulatory solutions that support ridesharing."
With research from Stephanie Chambers