You've really got to wonder where Robert Deluce has been hanging out for the past year. Judging by the $500-million lawsuit he's dropped on David Miller and the taxpayers who elected him, the president and CEO of Regional Airlines Holdings Inc. (REGCO) can't have been anywhere near Toronto.
There's no other way to comprehend how the would-be airline boss could have been so stunned when Miller was elected as the city's 16th chief magistrate.
Now the grasping entrepreneur expects a judge to order local property owners to cough up half a billion bucks to compensate him for his supposed start-up costs and years of lost profits from an airline that doesn't even exist? It's absolutely preposterous. Absurd, outrageous, unbelievable, ridiculous and ludicrous, too - to borrow just a few of the words Miller used to describe Deluce's statement of claim when it landed on his desk last week.
Toss in the additional $5 million REGCO Bob is seeking for "punitive, exemplary or aggravated damages" and you've got a sum in excess of the amount the federal government has agreed to invest in the revitalization of the city's waterfront. It's more money than the province of Ontario approved for shoreline beautification. Hell, all the public land the city has pledged as its contribution to the port land mega-project isn't worth the amount Deluce says is his due because a new council decided it doesn't want to replace the airport ferry with a 122-metre drawbridge.
You have to wonder if it was just coincidence that details of REGCO's legal action were dropped off at the Ontario Superior Court 52 weeks to the day after Miller kicked off his quest for the mayoralty at a waterfront nightclub. In a speech to the boisterous throng on hand to cheer him on, Miller was very explicit about his plans for the bridge.
"How does a bridge to an expanded airport with nine times the traffic fit with a vision of a waterfront for people to live, work and play?" he asked on the night of January 8, 2003. "We know the answer: it doesn't."
Deluce's problem was that he didn't believe a political candidate with low-single-digit support in the polls at the time would ever get the chance to follow through. Only after Miller got into office did Deluce seem to fathom that he might actually have a problem. And so he set to work trying to fix it in the manner that had become standard procedure during the reign of Melvin Douglas Lastman. Deluce had a representative of his company's board get in touch with the man who'd managed Miller's successful campaign.
According to John Laschinger, the well-known Conservative election strategist who put his expertise to work for the NDP councillor, the REGCO intermediary called to inquire whether he was still working for Miller. When Laschinger said he wasn't, Deluce's agent asked if it would be possible for the airline to hire him as a lobbyist to "turn the bridge thing around."
"I was personally offended by it," Laschinger said of the approach, "that they would think someone would have so little integrity, to turn around and do something like that. " End of conversation.
Now Deluce has the gall to charge that Miller "has abused the powers of public office for improper purposes" and "threatened councillors with a failure to appoint them to key council positions and other positions if they voted against his wishes" on the bridge to the airport.
But if Deluce had bothered to check, he'd have found out that some of the top jobs on the new council went to politicians who didn't agree with Miller on the fixed link.
David Soknacki was still appointed budget chief. Mike Feldman didn't lose out on a deputy mayor's post. Bas Balkissoon is chair of the audit committee in spite of his support for the bridge. And more than a few pro-bridge councillors were handed spots as committee vice-chairs, with good chances of being upgraded 18 months from now.
Apparently, Deluce wasn't about to let evidence get in the way of his allegations, which include bizarre charges that Miller put pre-inauguration pressure on the fire chief and the head of Toronto Hydro "to interfere with the construction of the fixed link."
The mayor has dismissed REGCO's case as "nonsense." Expect the courts to find similar words to describe it. If it ever gets that far.