We know why Toronto's former treasurer and two of her one-time colleagues saw absolutely nothing wrong with having their endorsements and photos splashed across MFP Financial Services' annual report when they were all working for the city a few years back.Wanda Liczyk, Jim Andrew and Lana Viinamae were just following the example of their beloved leader, mentor and boss, Melvin Douglas Lastman.
As it turns out, using the mayoral mug to promote companies and their products is old hat for His Washup. In fact, the practice is now so passe that Lastman casually referred to it during his testimony this week to the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry.
Ron Manes, lead counsel for the commission headed by Justice Denise Bellamy, wanted to know why the mayor wasn't all that concerned about the antics of his "long-time trusted adviser" and her two ex-associates from the city's information technology division. As the commission lawyer pointed out, a lot of people take the view that what Liczyk, Andrew and Viinamae did was "very wrong."
But Lastman didn't see it that way. Oh, he'd earlier revealed that he was shocked and surprised when he found out his financial protege from the good old days in North York was chummy with MFP's ace account executive, Dash Domi. And the mayor had offered that perhaps Liczyk had gone a tad overboard accepting free hockey tickets and dinners from the lease salesman. But that endorsement thing, where's the problem?
"You know," Lastman said, "when you think about it a little further, you think, well, if they're willing to do it for other corporations, why not?
"You know, I know what I answered earlier," the mayor continued. "I know what I said before. But when you give it some further thought, maybe they do it for other corporations as well. Maybe it's not just MFP. Maybe they do it for other people in the computer business."
Manes tried to steer His Washup onto another course. But the mayor being the mayor, he just kept riffing.
"Like, I I have appeared -- I'm just thinking now -- in brochures for developers, saying that this development is a beautiful development," Lastman advised. "And it was and it is."
The lead counsel was intrigued.
"You say you appeared," Manes began, before being cut off by the motor-mouth mayor.
"I didn't get paid for it," the suddenly defensive chief magistrate stated.
After determining that this was all going on during Lastman's 25-year tenure as mayor of North York, the lead counsel asked the promo pioneer if he didn't feel he "was violating a common-sense conflict-of-interest guideline by endorsing a particular project or a particular development."
"No," the mayor shot back, "because I was willing to do it for others and I wanted to get a downtown really going. I wanted to get it really moving. And we did. And we got a lot of development going in uptown North York, which was then North York."
So, Manes asked, it was OK for Wanda and her IT attendants to give the big thumbs-up to MFP? That firm's now at the heart of a scandal that erupted after council learned it had a bill for $80.5 million in leased computers when the politicians had approved spending just $43 million.
"That's what I said," Lastman replied. "As long as they're willing to do it for other corporations as well -- and not just one."
It was a very revealing exchange and perfectly illustrated the kind of political culture the North York potentate wanted to impose on the newly amalgamated city of Toronto when he got his hands on the controls in 1998. Lastman spent much of his time as the inquiry's first witness trying to blame amalgamation and provincial government malevolence for creating the conditions that allowed bureaucrats to go on spending sprees without bothering to get council's approval.
The mayor painted a portrait of himself as man too busy whipping a merged municipality and its bureaucracy into shape to be bothered with the reports, motions and amendments that gave staff the opportunity to purchase thousands of software licences the city didn't need and to hire expensive consultants to teach them how to use all the extraneous material.
But Lastman's testimony also fleshed out his relationships with the powerbrokers who put him in office and the lobbyists who've become as common as politicians on the second floor of City Hall.
If there was any doubt that former Metro chair and Blue Jays baseball boss Paul Godfrey is the puppeteer with a guiding hand well up the back of Mel's suit jacket, the mayor put it to rest. Lastman revealed that it was Godfrey he called for help to set up a meeting between the city's CAO and MFP executives in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement with the Mississauga firm and avoiding a judicial probe of the whole sorry leasing fiasco.
"Who was it he knew at MFP, sir?" Manes asked after the mayor made Godfrey's involvement known.
"I don't know," Lastman replied. "I never asked him. All I wanted was the meetings and all I wanted to do was try and resolve the problem."
Godfrey "did get meetings arranged, but they didn't go well," the mayor recalled.
Instead, Toronto taxpayers get to spend $8 million on a commission of inquiry.
How's that for an endorsement?