Rating: NNNNNIt took over $11 million, 214 hear ing days and 156 witnesses for Justice Denise Bellamy to illuminate what.
It took over $11 million, 214 hear ing days and 156 witnesses for Justice Denise Bellamy to illuminate what some in this city’s political establishment never wanted aired outside of a back room: during the first two terms of amalgamation, City Hall was corrupted. Millions in taxpayers’ money that could have gone into daycare programs, affordable housing or maybe even a park was spent on dissecting Dash Domi’s life as a salesman.
While I don’t doubt that Justice Bellamy did a monumental public service and that council did the right thing by calling an inquiry, I can’t help but wonder if it could have been avoided had we been more vigilant earlier.
It’s not like the warning signs weren’t everywhere. It’s just that citizens, police, politicians, bureaucrats and, shame on us, even the media chose to ignore them.
It would be neat and easy to say the collective fog began on election night in 1997 at Mel Lastman’s victory party, where an impressive list of community leaders who bought into the popular mayor’s agenda mixed with powerful political fixers to gloat over their ultimate prize. But as Justice Bellamy recognized, it really began much earlier, in the old city of North York.
Indeed, the seeds were sown decades ago, maybe as far back as Mel Lastman’s first election in sleepy North York, when his fixers began their ascent.
The seeds were sown more than a decade ago in the Beaches, when constituents shrugged off a Globe and Mail probe into curious renovations on councillor Tom Jakobek’s home. As long as he promptly fixed their potholes, folks were only too happy to re-elect him.
The seeds were sown more than a decade ago when lawyer/lobbyist extraordinaire Jeff Lyons successfully advocated the killing of lobbyist disclosure at the old city of Toronto. Nobody cared. Nobody was watching. The old saying that Justice Bellamy trumpeted this week “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” rang hollow then.
The seeds were sown when American computer consultant Michael Saunders arrived at North York City Hall and had an affair with then 20-something budget analyst Wanda Liczyk, the enabler-to-be to both Lastman and Saunders.
And the seeds were sown when the Toronto Star supported amalgamation and, having bought into the assault on local democracy, became the new regime’s biggest cheerleader. Despite its impressive roster at City Hall, the city’s paper of record could barely bring itself to criticize the bureaucratic nightmare that was amalgamation, let alone investigate any questionable cash from the chaos until it was way too late.
The city’s media in general were more up to the task of digging into Marilyn Lastman’s troubled character than of investigating complex computer deals.
It wasn’t until four years into amalgamation, when Lastman’s popularity was beginning its descent, that councillors finally found the courage to ask tough questions.
Bellamy, of course, has made a ton of recommendations to prevent and detect these kind of problems in the future. But even though this is probably the most expensive advice city council has ever paid for, all the ethics rules in the world won’t stop this from happening again. It will and probably not long after the dust begins to settle on Bellamy’s four-volume report.
There will always be parasites prepared to use public office for personal gain. But hopefully what all this really means is that we won’t need another three-year inquiry and millions of dollars to nail them.