Let's compare and contrast.
On Friday, May 31, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford called reporters to a press conference. He was (and is) dealing with a serious scandal regarding allegations of drug use, so reporters doggedly followed, hoping the embattled mayor would maybe answer some questions on that subject. He didn't, though — instead, he talked about the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Under his leadership, he said, the agency has now “turned the corner.” He spoke glowingly about improvements made at the housing agency under his watch.
Just six days later, Toronto ombudsman Fiona Crean also had something to say about Toronto Community Housing. She released a damning report full of alarming and shocking case studies. It's a through and important piece of work, one that single-handedly justifies the existence of ombudsman's office while also making a case for giving that office a larger budget.
Crean's report doesn't really paint a picture of an organization that has “turned the corner.” Instead, she cites a 2009 report identifying poor practices that went mostly unaddressed due to continued turmoil at the corporation and several changes in leadership. “Three years later,” Crean writes, “we appear to be at the same crossroads.”
The story, in short: TCHC screwed up. They've been evicting senior citizens without proper notice and with little mind to preventing eviction. The ombudsman reveals cases where senior tenants with mental health issues or little knowledge of English were, without proper notice, stuck with huge bills for rent arrears they couldn't possibly afford. In many cases, those bills led to evictions. And in some cases those evictions led to homelessness, even death. Crean uses the word “unacceptable” a lot. Ditto “unreasonable.”
In telling the story of a woman who was evicted from TCHC but then still attempted to pay back the rent she owed even while living in a women's shelter, Crean even uses the word “heartbreakingly.”
It's possible that Ford wasn't aware of the ombudsman's work when he called his May 31 press conference. But TCHC CEO Gene Jones can't claim the same thing — he wrote a letter dated May 28 in response to the ombudsman's report, thanking Crean for the investigation and her recommendations. But Jones still stood behind the mayor as Ford spoke glowingly about turning the corner at TCHC.
The whole thing raises a lot of questions. Did Jones not tell Ford that a scathing report on the agency was due for release? Did Ford know about the report and decide to proceed anyway? Wouldn't someone in the mayor's office have heard about a sweeping investigation targeting Toronto Community Housing? If Ford did know, did he just not take the report seriously?
Ford did later call another press conference to discuss the ombudsman's report. “I promise you we are not going to leave one person behind,” he told reporters. “I'll give you my word, I will guarantee it. It will be fixed.”
That response also makes for an interesting study of contrasts. Let's flash back to March 2011, when Ford was handed a spending scandal at TCHC — one in which the city's auditor general caught employees hosting lavish Christmas parties and going on staff boat cruises. There, Ford took immediate action and publicly demanded that appointees to the TCHC board resign. Later, at a special meeting of City Council, he dissolved the entire board — which included duly-elected representatives elected by TCHC tenants — and installed a temporary director. He was fired up.
By comparison, his response to this latest dust-up at TCHC seems muted. On his June 9 radio show, the mayor spent only a few minutes discussing the report, despite devoting segments of his June 2 show to trumpeting what he saw as large-scale improvements at the housing agency. At City Council Wednesday, as the ombudsman and TCHC CEO answered questions and his colleagues moved motions, the mayor disappeared from the chamber for long stretches. For much of the debate, he wasn't even there.
Then, on Thursday, the mayor offered only a loud and defensive speech indicating that he agreed with only some of the ombudsman's 30 recommendations but not explaining which ones. He rambled off figures showing that evictions have declined since he took office. When asked specifically about seniors, he explained that he hasn't received any calls from seniors in the process of being evicted from TCHC.
When councillors got up to question whether the mayor believed the case studies identified by the ombudsman or if he had even bothered to read the ombudsman's report, Ford wasn't clear.
“I know I've been to more Toronto Community Housing units than any person in this council chamber,” he explained, as if that were enough.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/ford-for-toronto-matt-elliott/2013/06/14/mayor-rob-fords-response-to-damning-tchc-report-falls-far-short.html on 2013-06-14T00:00:00.000Z