by Don Wanagas, City Hall
mayors from major canadian cities coast-to-coast travelled here last weekend. Their intent was to forge a political alliance to win municipalities a much bigger share of the financial pie being dished out by Ottawa and the provinces. Alas, Mel Lastman, the supposed mayor of Toronto, was nowhere to be seen. Phil Owen, Vancouver's chief magistrate, considered the three-day strategy session important enough to fly in from the West Coast. Ditto for Peter Kelly, the mayor of Halifax. Al Duerr arrived from Calgary, and Bob Chiarelli dropped in from the nation's capital to join the brainstorming session. Glen Murray, Winnipeg's mayor, made himself available for the Crowne Plaza get-together. So did his counterpart from Saskatoon, Jim Maddin, among others.
But our mayor couldn't be bothered to put in an appearance at the welcoming reception to utter a few simple words of support for the cause and cheer on his colleagues. Hell, His Washup didn't even think to send deputy mayor Case Ootes along to extend greetings. The entire gig was clearly considered such a colossal waste of time that not even a pliant member of Lastman's staff was ordered over to the Front Street hotel to take notes and report back to the boss.
It was left to councillor Jack Layton -- who also happens to be president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities -- to spend the weekend passing on lame excuses from the mayor's office about unspecified "prior commitments' that made it quite impossible for Lastman to put in even a brief appearance.
"It was a total embarrassment for the city that the mayor did not attend,' says a senior Toronto official involved in organizing the affair. "Frankly, such behaviour from the leader of Canada's biggest city is just plain rude, and it did not go unnoticed by the people who were here to roll up their sleeves and do some work on behalf of the taxpayers who elected them.'
Of course, Torontonians have become accustomed to being embarrassed by the former appliance salesman who pledged to run this city like a business and "make it work.' But four years after being elected mayor of the amalgamated city of Toronto, Lastman has failed to sell anybody on much of anything other than his own lack of competence.
The municipality he is supposed to be leading is definitely not working the way he promised it would. That's what makes this ignorant snub of big-city mayors all the more galling. No one in recent memory has spent more time than Lastman screaming and hollering about how all the "liars' and "thieves' at Queen's Park and in Ottawa have screwed Toronto by refusing to give his council the money it needs to maintain a decent quality of life for its citizens. But his complaining has been so overdone that it's become totally devoid of effect and is now roundly dismissed as little more than the rantings of a political wing nut who long ago exhausted his meagre arsenal of rational arguments.
Truth be told, the mayors of Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax have a lot more to offer Lastman at this point than he can hope to give them. At least they've still got some semblance of credibility with senior levels of government. And the Strong Cities, Strong Canada campaign launched at the conclusion of their conference Sunday afternoon takes a reasoned, all-for-one, one-for-all approach to negotiating a 21st-century relationship with Ottawa and the provinces.
It has considerably more hope of success than all the bombastic bluster Lastman continues to employ. Unfortunately, our mayor has proven over and over again that he's incapable of being a team player. In much the same way he gave the finger to those unappreciated colleagues from other provinces last weekend, he has either ignored or ridiculed attempts by cities closer to home to initiate united action meant to wrest more municipal powers out of the hands of an increasingly vulnerable Ontario government.
His refusal to become a team player hurts municipalities right across the GTA. But the injuries are most severe in Toronto -- Lastman's arrogance isolates the city by making it the perceived enemy of neighbouring communities that could be important allies during troubled political times.
This same egotistical Lastman attitude is the root cause of so much of what ails City Hall right now. The wholesale exodus of top members of the civic bureaucracy is certainly no testament to the mayor's ability to get along with people and build consensus. There are currently openings for chief administrative officer, chief financial officer, city solicitor and director of human resources.
And no one would be too surprised if the city's chief planner and the auditor are gone by spring. Lastman's undermining of the city's long-overdue waterfront redevelopment plan with mindless public criticism of its creators in the planning department is just one of many blows to the morale of senior staff.
The poorly concealed campaign now being orchestrated by the mayor's office to deep-six a recent auditor's report damning the open-wallet policy used to pay for the services of outside consultants also has many veteran employees questioning why they should bother investing serious effort in their jobs. These days, most people are keeping their heads down while they wait for the change in political direction that must come before the city can really start moving forward again.
With His Washup squandering obvious leadership opportunities at almost every turn, the two-year wait for the next mayoral election could turn into unbearable torture.