So wait, the new line on how this Chicago trip is costing city taxpayers no money at all is that the businesspeople who signed up to go along paid for the politicians to go? As the Globe reports:
As the mayor’s office explained it, the business leaders on the mission paid a “delegate fee” of just under $2,000 to the trip’s official organizer, Invest Toronto, an arms-length city agency whose purpose is attracting new businesses to Toronto. The fee covered airfare, hotels, events and overhead, including paying the way for the city and mayor’s office employees supporting the mission and for two or three councillors.The trouble arose when eight councillors wound up joining the mission. With the invoices and sponsorship totals yet to be tallied, it was too early to determine on the ground in Chicago whether Invest could pay for so many councillors and still break even on the junket.
I’m not sure that explanation really helps. I, for one, think if the trip was worth taking for city business, the city should pay for it. The mayor, for reasons all his own, thinks the city should not have to pay for such trips, presumably because they’re a perk for the politicians and the poor taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to pay for perks. But then why is it okay for a city agency to basically charge money to private businesses who may do business with the city–like say the head of Porter Airlines who co-chaired the whole trip and is, um, known to have dealings with City Hall that include suing the city government–to fund mayoral and council trips? And then have those business people, for that fee, be allowed to go along with the mayor and councillors on the trip, where one might reasonably assume they get some access and build a relationship and make an impression on the politicians?
If it’s too much of a perk for the city government to fund, it seems worse to me, at least as a matter of appearances, to have businesses fund that perk and get to travel with government officials in exchange.
In fact, I recall that one time when a politician joining corporate lobbyists on a trip to an American city was one shocking element of a much larger scandal—in that case Tom Jakobek repeatedly denied he’d gone on the trip, since the appearance of accepting that favour would be so damaging. Now, “the companies who went with us picked up the bill” is the defence? Hmmm.
Here’s what Madame Justice Denise Bellamy said in her recommendations stemming from the MFP inquiry (emphasis mine, see this PDF):
Outside of City procurement processes, ethically appropriate lobbying is permitted. However, at no time should lobbying take the formof entertainment or the bestowing of gifts, meals, trips, entertainment, or favours of any kind on staff or councillors.
PHOTO: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo