Don’t blame casino lobbyists for leading Toronto city councillors into temptation — history shows they’re quite capable of finding it on their own.
The latest example is the unfortunate case of Councillor Ana Bailao. She was charged with impaired driving last week just hours after socializing at a trendy hotel lounge in the company of a prominent casino lobbyist.
The drunk driving charge is immensely serious. But it’s not clear that any bylaws governing the behavior of politicians and lobbyists were broken. The Star’s Robyn Doolittle reports that two lobbyists hired by MGM did notify the city’s lobbyist registry about contacting Bailao on the date in question. They also reported dealing with Councillor Mark Grimes, who happens to chair the board of Exhibition Place, MGM’s preferred place for a gambling complex.
Fair enough. But even if all this activity was properly documented and kept strictly within the rules, it should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who recalls Toronto city hall’s MFP computer leasing scandal a dozen years ago. A subsequent inquiry revealed, in the words of a Star editorial, “key politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats wallowing in a swamp of greed and graft.”
We don’t want to go back to that, or even a semblance of those times. Following this scandal it’s not enough to technically avoid impropriety. Perception matters. And visions of billionaire casino operators deploying high-priced lobbyists in an attempt to sway local politicians can’t help but undermine public confidence in the system’s accountability.
That’s why city councillors should follow the principled example of Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and voluntarily forego any personal contact with casino lobbyists. These people do have a right to earn a living peddling their client’s views. So don’t blame them, especially since there’s been no finding that those shilling for a casino have broken any law. But councillors have a choice in whether or not to play along. And they shouldn’t.
It’s telling that when Bailao, Grimes and casino lobbyists left the Mayor’s Ball for the Arts, late on Oct. 15, the group was headed for the posh downtown Thompson Hotel. Its website features an elegant cocktail bar, a rooftop lounge, and the slogan: “Your search for La Dolce Vita ends here.”
We’re sure it does. When it comes to casino lobbyists wooing city councillors, that’s exactly the problem.