Ford seems in­tent on re­duc­ing ac­count­abil­ity, re­ward­ing friends, sup­port­ers

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - EDI­TOR'S NOTES

ELECTED ON THE STRENGTH of not be­ing Kath­leen Wynne – a ham sand­wich, even with­out cheese or mus­tard, would have cleared that bar – Doug Ford ap­pears to be on a fast track to prov­ing his crit­ics right.

A case in point is Bill 57, the Or­wellian Restor­ing Trust, Trans­parency and Ac­count­abil­ity Act – gov­ern­ments of all stripes like to treat the pub­lic as boobs in nam­ing leg­is­la­tion in di­rect con­trast to their in­tent – which sees Ford take aim at in­de­pen­dent over­sight at Queen’s Park.

Part of the om­nibus bill – an­other tac­tic pop­u­lar with gov­ern­ments look­ing to rail­road un­pop­u­lar leg­is­la­tion – elim­i­nates the prov­inces’ Child Ad­vo­cate, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Com­mis­sioner, the French Lan­guage Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner and the Con­flict of In­ter­est Com­mis­sioner. It also makes it pos­si­ble for the gov­ern­ment to sus­pend all other in­de­pen­dent of­fi­cers of the leg­is­la­ture such as the Au­di­tor Gen­eral, the In­tegrity Com­mis­sioner, the Chief Elec­toral Of­fi­cer and the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer.

Au­di­tors gen­eral, bud­get of­fi­cers and in­tegrity com­mis­sion­ers have been of par­tic­u­lar con­cern of gov­ern­ments that would rather not have any­one look­ing into their acts of cor­rup­tion, graft, in­ef­fi­cien­cies and in­com­pe­tence – that’s not the kind of trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity they want (i.e. more than none).

In Ford’s case, some of the cuts play to the base – that sounds fa­mil­iar – while elim­i­nat­ing hur­dles to an­other of his early-and-of­ten cor­rupt­ing ten­den­cies: ap­point­ing friends and loy­al­ists to plum po­si­tions, with or with­out ap­pro­pri­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tions. Given that he’s done so in the face of ex­pert opin­ion and even po­lit­i­cal op­tics, it’s no won­der he’s look­ing to re­move over­sight func­tions.

Be­ing short on both ex­pe­ri­ence and a se­ri­ous grasp of the job didn’t stop Ford from charg­ing in, par­tic­u­larly on the elec­tric­ity file.

A ma­jor source of Lib­eral fail­ures, hy­dro was a talk­ing point dur­ing the elec­tion. Once in of­fice, Ford set about tin­ker­ing un­der the hood, lead­ing with the board and CEO of Hy­dro One. The moves have yet to pro­vide any sav­ings, nor a much-needed so­lu­tion to long-term rate re­duc­tions. But Ford has at­tempted to set­tle some po­lit­i­cal scores – see the fir­ing of Alykhan Velshi, a for­mer chief of staff to Pa­trick Brown, from On­tario Power Gen­er­a­tion – on the backs of tax­pay­ers, heed­less of the im­pact.

And speak­ing of OPG, the util­ity re­cently sold off the site of a de­com­mis­sioned gen­er­at­ing sta­tion in Toronto un­der a cloud of se­crecy and complaints the price was well be­low mar­ket value.

Orig­i­nally a coal-fired plant that was con­verted to burn oil, the R.L. Hearn Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion hasn’t been in use since 1983, but it’s sit­u­ated by the lake in the city’s Port Lands area. Though in need of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­me­di­a­tion given its for­mer use, the site is worth a fair bit of money be­cause of its lo­ca­tion. NDP critic Peter Tabuns, for in­stance, points to nearby prop­er­ties hav­ing sold for hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

“I want a fully in­de­pen­dent ap­praisal of this prop­erty done and re­leased pub­licly be­fore a sin­gle dol­lar is al­lowed to change hands,” he said in a state­ment, not­ing that OPG’s sole share­holder is the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

One of the key buy­ers, it turns out, is a big de­vel­oper whose fam­ily do­nated $11,000 to Ford’s cam­paign and $30,000 to his brother’s may­oralty cam­paign.

In that vein, the PCs have also moved to re­duce con­straints on cam­paign fi­nance rules, open­ing the door to pay-for-ac­cess fundrais­ers and third-party in­ter­fer­ence in pro­vin­cial elec­tions.

The om­nibus bill also elim­i­nates rent con­trols on new build­ings, can­cels the Pay Trans­parency Act aimed at pay eq­uity and weak­ens the pro­tec­tion of some gov­ern­ment agen­cies and as­sets.

Not sur­pris­ingly, this bill has drawn the par­tic­u­lar ire of pub­lic-sec­tor unions, which have staked an anti-Ford po­si­tion from the start.

Fred Hahn, pres­i­dent of CUPE On­tario, for in­stance, main­tains Bill 57 could prove a dan­ger to our very democ­racy.

“And the cherry on the top of this mess of cor­po­rate pan­der­ing is that the bill brings big cor­po­rate money back into po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing through cash­for-ac­cess fundrais­ers and di­rect cor­po­rate do­na­tions,” says Hahn in a re­lease. “The Ford Tories may be call­ing this the ‘Restor­ing Trust, Trans­parency and Ac­count­abil­ity Act,’ but what it does is dam­age our democ­racy, de­mol­ish gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity and open the doors wide for even greater cor­po­rate in­flu­ence over gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions. The peo­ple will pay while cor­po­ra­tions ben­e­fit – pe­riod.”

Par­ti­san stance aside, he’s not wrong in as­sess­ing the pit­falls, nor in rec­og­niz­ing the hypocrisy in the bill’s name. It’s as if the gov­ern­ment as­sumes most peo­ple are either too stupid or too pre­oc­cu­pied to delve any deeper ... or even care. Ford may be right. Keep­ing the pub­lic oc­cu­pied with mind­less par­ti­san­ship, petty bick­er­ing and, above all, pop-cul­ture dis­trac­tions works out just fine for those who are happy with the sta­tus quo: the real power elites who have no in­ter­est in chang­ing a good thing.

Too many of us seem much too ea­ger to think well of those in authority, de­spite re­peated ex­am­ples of malfea­sance and in­com­pe­tence.

Par­ti­sans turn a blind eye to all of the neg­a­tives, whether that’s in sup­port of a par­tic­u­lar party or a pet pro­ject. The rest of us look on ap­a­thet­i­cally, of­ten re­signed to the fact graft and cor­rup­tion abound. A few note that in­com­pe­tence is com­mon­place, from mu­nic­i­pal bu­reau­cra­cies through to the board­rooms of multi­na­tion­als.

The only way that’s go­ing to change is through the po­lit­i­cal will to push for true ac­count­abil­ity.

The politi­cians won’t do it, how­ever, un­less we force them to: they’re happy with a self-serv­ing sys­tem that al­lows un­fet­tered ac­cess to the cookie jar for them­selves and their fi­nan­cial back­ers.

Quite sim­ply, politi­cians have no in­ter­est in tight­en­ing up the rules to elim­i­nate self-in­ter­est as a mo­ti­va­tion for de­ci­sion mak­ing among elected of­fi­cials and bu­reau­crats. They’ll talk a good game, es­pe­cially in op­po­si­tion, but re­ally want to keep their op­tions open.

His­tory has shown that the rules, and the spoils, ben­e­fit the few, while the costs go to the rest of us.

Truly open gov­ern­ment would not only re­veal the back­room deals, lob­by­ing and pa­tron­age that are the main­stay of gov­ern­ment, it would do away with much of it. Again, that’s not even in Ford’s worst night­mares when he talks about trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, though never de­liv­er­ing on even the mildest ver­sions of open gov­ern­ment.

That bare min­i­mum would in­volve re­veal­ing where the money goes, re­veal­ing the most egre­gious waste – the kind of stuff the pub­lic loves to rant about – and, just per­haps, let­ting some light shine on who ben­e­fits.

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