After John Tory, it’s time for Toronto city council to be up front about charity

Toronto’s Mayor John Tory is not pretending to be an angel. He has skin in the game too. He benefits from his paid and high-profile relationship with Philanthropic Community Care Toronto, the only not-for-profit…

After John Tory, it’s time for Toronto city council to be up front about charity

Toronto’s Mayor John Tory is not pretending to be an angel. He has skin in the game too. He benefits from his paid and high-profile relationship with Philanthropic Community Care Toronto, the only not-for-profit provider of primary and addictions services in the city. ACSTOR provides funds for Tory to use for the support of about 3,000 people he cares about. The most significant financial commitment is made each year when the mayor passes $10 million dollars on to ACSTOR.

This amount is generous for most people; especially for a politician. To give perspective, NYC’s new mayor has committed to helping 1,000 low-income youth — more than London and Berlin combined.

And so John Tory’s continued political currency rests on this self-serving relationship. I guess he’s the village idiot of Toronto — the you couldn’t make it up kind of mayor.

But, I would point out, this practice of providing public money to charity runs contrary to what John Tory has said. He promised to end the “free rides” for charitable organizations when he first ran for mayor. We all knew he would break his promise, but we also knew this wouldn’t lead to the fix in the dog days of summer. What kind of corny political flirtation and power grab is this? Now John Tory is the biggest dog he’s ever had.

The only way John Tory could win the Toronto mayoral race would be to run on a platform of “zero tolerance for charity.” It would be the only way to convince Torontonians that their Mayor is someone to look up to. To his credit, he has since distanced himself from the relationship by saying that he doesn’t have to pay the charity for services the city pays for, and that there’s plenty of money to pay for those services too.

Which begs the question: What is there about John Tory’s relationship with ACSTOR that is a public trust violation, if not an outright direct conflict of interest? Is it just city government that could benefit from sessions with John Tory? Or do Toronto’s charitable organizations have a right to a voice in discussions about their funding going forward? The same would apply to politicians — presumably John Tory would consider consulting with charities again too.

For example, John Tory has been urged to at least consult the city on the $50 million in ice rink repairs in Etobicoke. If Ontario’s horse racing industry wants to support the race tracks in 2015 on $25 million, might John Tory be opposed to that payment? Maybe he could even offer some wise advice like, “Before you throw our horse racetracks a lifeline, consider whether you would recommend paying your neighbours more for their tax bills every year.”

One thing’s for sure: It’s a familiar old line. It’s nice to see John Tory do it with another colleague — his political rival, Doug Ford. The two candidates will have an opportunity to make an important strategic alliance in 2018, an alliance that may not be politically popular, but will carry real advantages for each: In the run-up to next May’s election, the mayor of Toronto will be able to enlist Ford’s support in whatever strategic strategy he wishes to pursue. This alliance could influence the run-up to Toronto’s provincial elections. It will have no impact on the municipal campaign, but by keeping the leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party attached to him, John Tory ensures he won’t put at risk the massive public support he has already secured. In this case it’s back to the relationship between charity and politics.

Look, John Tory has his need to be a surrogate for Philanthropic Community Care Toronto. Nobody volunteers to be the charity therapist for the people they care about. They already accepted the position. And it could be much better for John Tory to pull his head out of the sand and agree to put that charitable relationship on the table — this time, with all of his candidate competitors to share what he knows about charities. Whatever their motivations, the municipalities of Canada are citizens as well. They deserve a representative for the city of Toronto, not John Tory’s faithful.

John Tory’s new crisis communications chief should work on being part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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