by Chris Selley
The minor saga of Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean’s budget ended Thursday at City Council. A staff-recommended boost of $103,000, which would have paid for two new positions, had been nixed by the Budget Committee on Jan. 24 on grounds of austerity. But on Thursday, councillor Josh Matlow tabled a motion seeking to reinstate it — it failed 18-27, with some of Ms. Crean’s most prominent supporters, including John Parker and Michael Thompson, voting in line with the pennywise Mayor.
During the debate, councillor Doug Ford levelled a variety of allegations at Ms. Crean: that she has been “lobbying” every councillor for more money; that her office only fielded 1,500 telephone calls last year, or roughly six a day; that unlike all the other accountability officers, she has a director of communications; and that because she hasn’t posted her expenses online, we don’t know how much this communications director might make — he guessed $100,000 — or how much her recent “36-page, … four-colour, self-promoting brochure” cost to produce.
All of that is either wrong, misleading or forcefully disputed by Ms. Crean. In order:
- She denies asking councillors flat-out for money, though she doesn’t deny extensive consultations with them: “My responsibility is to meet with councillors periodically, to be responsive to their requests,” she says. She says she’s met at least twice with each the veterans on council, and at least once with each of the newly elected councillors. (She has certainly made her case quite stridently for more resources in the media and to councillors at the Budget Committee, however — that being pretty much the point of the Budget Committee.)
- 1,562 is the number of complaints and inquiries her office dealt with, not the number of phone calls. “I wish I only had six calls a day,” she says.
- Ms. Crean does not have a communications director, at any salary (though she has engaged the services of outside public relations help to approach media).
- The “36-page, four-colour, self-promoting brochure” is probably better thought of as her “2010 Annual Report,” which she is legally required to produce. It cost something in the neighbourhood of $5,000, she says, which may or may not correspond to Mr. Ford’s definition of “God knows what.” It doesn’t strike me as particularly self-promoting at all.
As for compiling her expenses and posting them online — which councillors asked her to do in a separate motion — she insists she’s happy to do so, and hasn’t thus far only for lack of time. “Of course my expenses should be posted,” she says. “And they will be posted on March 31st. I’m going to post them quarterly.” And she promises they will be unexciting: “Not only are there no bombshells, it’s a yawn-fest.”
Mr. Ford was unavailable to comment on Friday afternoon, but Ms. Crean plans to set him straight. “He made a number of misstatements,” Ms. Crean says diplomatically, “that I will be correcting with him when I have an opportunity.”
To read this column at nationalpost.com, please click here.