just when you thought things couldn't possibly get any weirder at City Hall, along comes Mayor Mel Lastman with the bizarre allegation that CBC reporters are engaging in electronic trickery to make him look bad. He says it's been going on for years.
I kid you not. The man who keeps several staff on hand to regularly extract his well-shod feet from the mayoral maw would have us believe nefarious employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are "doctoring" his taped interviews and landing him in all kinds of political hot water. On whose orders these agents are acting Lastman won't say. But you can be sure Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the Grits' point person for the GTA, David Collenette, are among the leading suspects.
The mayor made the bewildering charges at a recent meeting of city council's policy and finance committee. The session just happened to follow on the heels of local CBC reports that Lastman is prepared to have the cops called in if a forensic audit turns up any evidence of wrongdoing in the awarding last year of more than $9 million in consulting contracts.
Up until last week, the mayor had adamantly opposed both a forensic audit and a police investigation into agreements with four consulting firms that were paid considerably more than was ever authorized. Lastman said all the problems -- including missing purchase orders and the lack of receipts for many claimed expenses -- had been fixed and he was satisfied that no further action would be necessary. But in an interview with CBC-TV reporter John Northcott last Wednesday, the mayor suddenly changed his tune. Not only would he support a detailed audit, but Lastman also said he would not rule out a police investigation.
Clearly, the mayor had suddenly come to the realization that a growing number of city councillors want to get to the bottom of the controversial consulting irregularities and that his continued opposition to a comprehensive probe could be seen as obstructionist.
"If the police are necessary, do it," the mayor said. "But," he added, "I've been assured there's nothing criminal that's been done."
After Northcott's piece was broadcast, CBC Radio journalist Margo Kelly used excerpts from the tape to prepare a similar report for the next morning's radio news. But rather than use the same remarks as her TV colleague, Kelly chose another clip from Northcott's interview with Lastman.
"I have no problem with it at all," the mayor had also said concerning a possible police investigation.
"But go to the right police. Go to the Toronto police," Lastman added in reference to suggestions by some councillors that the RCMP be called in if the audit should determine that a criminal investigation is necessary.
It was the radio story that somehow got the mayor all twisted out of shape.
"They changed it to be a different story than the one on TV," Lastman charged, even though he confessed to members of the policy and finance committee that he was personally unfamiliar with either news report.
"I don't watch the CBC and I don't listen to the CBC," he offered.
The mayor said he was responding to intelligence gathered by members of his staff who, when they aren't busy pulling his feet out of his mouth, somehow find time to watch television and listen to the radio. And they have convinced him that the CBC "doctored my words."
"Everybody says these things can't be done, but this is the second time it has been done to me by the CBC," Lastman claimed.
The first time? Well, the mayor maintained that an on-camera statement he made to former CBC-TV reporter Adam Vaughan during the megacity election in 1997 was fabricated in an attempt to sink his bid. It was during that infamous interview that Lastman claimed there were no homeless people in North York.
Unfortunately, less than 24 hours after the mayor's boast was broadcast, Metro police reported that the body of a homeless woman had been found in the washroom of a North York gas station. Lastman responded to that news by accusing Vaughan of doctoring videotape to make him say something he never said.
But as the mayor has shown in the years since, there's absolutely no need for journalists -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to make things up in order to cast Lastman in an unflattering light. He's shown himself to be quite adept at accomplishing that feat all by himself with stunning regularity. And his continued attempts to shoot the messenger, be it the CBC or any other news outlet in town, are now recognized as the rantings of a desperate politician.
Even once-reliable allies in the media are starting to question Lastman's ability to lead the city into an increasingly troubled future. When Royson James, the Toronto Star's usually supportive municipal affairs columnist, recently took the mayor to task for undermining the city planning department's attempts to advance his own vision of waterfront redevelopment, Lastman immediately responded by publicly questioning the veteran commentator's journalistic competence. He had the gall to criticize me, Lastman complained in a CFRB phone-in last week. "We'll have a waterfront inspite of him.'
That's certainly no way for any politician to treat a rapidly dwindling roster of friends. In fact, it's just one more sign His Washup has lost the ability to do the job he was elected to do.
And I'm not making this up.