Michael Walker is a little ticked off at Mayor David Miller right now. No, it's worse than that. The councillor for Ward 22 (St. Paul's) is freaking livid. Steaming! Just 10 days ago, Walker seemed poised to become that great government reformer who would finally bring about long-promised changes to the way our municipal election campaigns are financed.
As head of council's administration committee, the renowned political maverick had somehow managed to fashion a package of sweeping recommendations that would ban both corporate and union donations to local candidates.
The proposed changes would include tough new accounting guidelines on campaign spending and require the many candidates who accumulate huge cash surpluses to return the money to the citizens who actually subsidize the electoral fun and games with their tax dollars.
The Toronto election review task force was behind the reforms. The community activists from VoteToronto fully supported the proposals. And, best of all, the mayor was on side.
Yet somehow, when all the talking was done, council referred the prickly matter to city election staff for a report to be submitted to council's policy and finance committee for it to make its own recommendations to council in September.
All of a sudden, Walker sees the cause of election finance reform headed back into the limbo it never seems able to escape. And if that happens, he says, the mayor should take the blame. In fact, Walker insists Miller should "get the heck out of his office" if he can't convince a majority of council to fall into line behind him on "this defining issue."
It wasn't enough that Miller was among the 17 councillors who voted against the 19 who managed to have the matter referred to a committee Miller chairs. Walker complains, "I don't see any moral leadership in his position to date."
One look at the list of councillors who supported referral last week makes it clear that Miller has his work cut out for him. The motion to refer was put forward by none other than Councillor Howard Moscoe. The Ward 15 (Eglinton-Lawrence) rep is adamantly opposed to putting unions and corporations out of the election finance game.
Same goes for Ward 32 (Beaches-East York) Councillor Sandra Bussin. Miller may have appointed his NDP colleague to be one of his deputies, but she made a point of speaking out against Walker's proposed changes at council and voted to have the matter sent to policy and finance. Ditto for the other two deputy mayors - Councillors Joe Pantalone and Mike Feldman.
As it happens, Moscoe, Bussin and Pantalone are members of the policy and finance committee. So are Gay Cowbourne and Mark Grimes - two other councillors who supported referral. Toss in Councillor Maria Augimeri - who missed last week's City Hall get-together but is known to be dead set against eliminating corporate and union donors, who together contributed almost $34,000 to her successful 2003 campaign - and Walker's critics are clearly in numerical control of what happens at the committee's September meeting.
It will be up to Miller to change that, the councillor says.
"As far as I'm concerned, he'll be morally bankrupt if he doesn't deliver on this issue," Walker argues. "It's all relative to the mayor's promise to clean house at City Hall, to padlock the back doors so people who want to do business with the city come in the front doors where everybody can see them. If he can deliver on killing the bridge to the Island Airport, if he can prevent a debate on the police chief, he can sure as heck deliver for reform and cleaning up government."
Miller cautioned his impetuous colleague to be patient and to let the political process run its course.
"Councillor Walker is an incredibly passionate advocate on this issue, but he hadn't done his homework," the mayor said in defence of the referral. "He probably should have asked city staff to report on the recommendations at administration committee. There's nothing wrong with getting advice from our staff. They've run a lot of elections, they're independent and they've got some views."
Miller wouldn't predict what will happen at policy and finance in September, but he expressed confidence the election finance issue won't end up in "a procedural never-never land.
"People can have legitimate differences of opinion over banning funding from corporations and unions, but a lot of the recommendations are tidying up situations that are open to abuse. I think when it comes back to council, much of the report will go through as recommended."
That remark might indicate that there will be modifications to the proposed rules regarding money from business and labour. That will infuriate Walker, but it won't bother Councillor Kyle Rae. He received more than $63,000 from corporate donors alone in 2003 en route to a campaign surplus of almost $36,000. That surplus more than equals what almost half of his council colleagues spent getting elected last year.
"For some reason it's OK to take money from residents who you make sure get front-yard parking pads, but you can't take money from businesses you're helping in a BIA (Business Improvement Area) or from a developer who's building on his property," Rae says.
He characterizes Walker as "a self-righteous puritan" who wants everybody to do things the way he does even though their political situations differ.
"I think Michael should be taken to task," the Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) councillor suggests. "He constructs an argument that suggests there's corruption and broadcasts that with no evidence."
But Walker sees things otherwise.
"It's this entrenchment of all these bad practices that is so corrosive to public confidence in government at all levels," he insists. "I think it will be the issue in the next municipal election."
We can't wait.