Thesis: On a substantive basis, Mayor Sam Katz is worse for the people of Winnipeg than Mayor Rob Ford is for the people of Toronto.
Two weeks ago, such a statement may have been met with shocked gasps and deafening cries of objection. “Sure,” Winnipeggers might say, “Sam Katz isn’t great – we have a hard time naming one thing he’s drastically improved and, y’know, he’s nothing like that guy in Calgary – but so what? He’s not a raging loudmouth! He doesn’t get drunk in public! He’s never smoked crack (as far as we know)! He doesn’t write letters of reference for ex-cons! And have you seen these two? Ford makes Katz look like [insert hot actor of the year here]!”
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Of course, two weeks ago, we didn’t have a fire hall audit to cite.
The intricacies of government contracting and land use are far beyond the scope of this column and, most likely, your level of interest. So I’ll try to keep this short. According to my friend Brian Kelcey, public policy consultant and former advisor to Katz, these are the most pertinent details:
- Katz was instrumental in the hiring of his old friend Phil Sheegl as city administrative officer (CAO), despite the fact that he had no experience in the public sector.
- Sheegl oversaw the awarding of a fire hall construction contract to the development company Shindico, headed by Sandy Shindleman, a friend of Katz and Sheegl.
- The project was split into a number of individual contracts, allowing them to circumvent the city council’s budget rules.
- This became especially problematic after serious cost overruns.
- Sheegl claimed he only knew about this from a distance of “50 thousand feet,” despite documents saying otherwise.
- He resigned days before an audit documenting all of the above was released.
- And he received a massive severance package, which means that, with his salary, he will leave with over 400 thousand dollars.
- I also hear from reliable sources that he was a major asshole in high school.
Now I’m not one of those right-wingers who insists Ford’s opposition to the (fiscal) gravy train insulates him from any and all criticism, and that if you dislike him, you must be a latte-sipping, Star-reading, David Miller-and-Olivia Chow-loving downtown socialist pansy. Yes, such people exist.
But let’s think back to the time something Ford did on the job was supposed to bring him down for good. Anyone remember what that offence was? Soliciting donations for his youth football team on city letterhead.
Oh. Em. Gee.
I emphasize “on the job” because, ultimately, that’s what matters. If we discovered that Ford supported a Scarborough subway extension over LRT because he was high on crack, that would be one thing. All we know for certain is that a lot of people think he’s been high on crack before.
Oh, it’s embarrassing. I get that. We all blush a little bit when Canada’s largest city makes headlines for having a fat, sweaty, ruddy-faced, obscenity-spewing loudmouth of a mayor who is suspected of smoking crack, staggers around drunk in public and has been known to trip over a scale while being filmed.
But if anyone tries to tell me that’s enough to make Ford worse than Katz, please explain this: How did Toronto rank second in a list of 100 world cities produced by the Reputation Institute, while Vancouver, whose mayor only a fraction you could name, fell out of the top 10?
Winnipeggers aren’t as concerned with how the fire hall audit looks, mostly because they don’t have to be. It’s the kind of matter that’s too complex and unsexy to make international headlines. Think about it:
“WINNIPEG MAYOR RESPONSIBLE FOR EMPLOYMENT OF MAN WHO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT ‘PUBLIC SERVICE’ MEANS”
“TORONTO MAYOR SMOKES CRACK MAYBE”
But here’s what Winnipeggers care about: being screwed out of their hard-earned tax dollars by an incompetent, corrupt CAO, and the mayor who continues to pretend he had no idea such a thing would happen if he hired him.
Ford’s erratic behaviour isn’t enough for him to lose the trust of the public, in totality. He still has his adoring fans, as well as those who hated him before he was even elected. To betray the former and prove the latter right, he would need to do something to Torontonians – something to cause them tangible pain. Like allowing the city to waste over 400 thousand dollars on the only person in town less trustworthy than him while streets fall apart, property taxes run rampant and the CFL team totally blows.
Disagree, Torontonians? Prove me wrong. What has Rob Ford done to hurt you that has nothing to do with your city’s image?
Jess Chapman is a TV producer and freelance writer, recently transplanted from Winnipeg to Toronto, who strongly advises that residents of both cities cast write-in votes for pie.