How Toronto City Councillors campaign with your money

“While such spending is seemingly frivolous, it has a purpose: to boost the name recognition of councillors within their wards and enhance their chances of re-election. As such, it constitutes yet another advantage for city hall incumbents over any would-be challengers.”

Chipmunk  suit  no joke

March 19, 2010

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/782016–chipmunk-suit-no-joke

On one level, some Toronto city councillors’ inappropriate expense claims are laughable: rental of a chipmunk outfit and other theatrical costumes, presentation of a reptile show, opera tickets, parade beads and candy.

Laughter aside, however, all this feeds a perception that city politicians are living in a different reality than most Torontonians.

The councillors are quick to defend such expenses and to point out that they are all legitimate under the existing rules covering their $53,100 budgets for “office expenses.”

Councillor Adrian Heaps, for example, spent almost $440 on theatrical costumes last year, and paid three students $50 each to wear them for a community skating party. “My community loves it,” he says.

No doubt. But taxpayers across the city don’t love paying for it.

While such spending is seemingly frivolous, it has a purpose: to boost the name recognition of councillors within their wards and enhance their chances of re-election. As such, it constitutes yet another advantage for city hall incumbents over any would-be challengers.

Heaps, for example, can charge expenses arising from his popular skating parties to the taxpayer. But if the four other candidates vying for his Ward 35 seat hosted a similar event, they would have to pay for it out of their own pockets.

To curry favour with voters, some councillors even donate money to organizations within their wards and call it an office expense.

In this year’s city budget, the councillors’ office expenses are being slashed by 5 per cent. But in order to level the election playing field, the cut should be much deeper than that and the rules should be changed to limit claims on this pot of money to legitimate office expenses, not chipmunk suits.

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