Job posting for city agency seeking former staff from mayor’s office prompts ‘cronyism’ complaint

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A posting for a senior position at the city’s new body overseeing its massive real estate portfolio appears tailored to former members of Mayor John Tory’s staff or that of previous mayors.

The job qualifications for CreateTO’s senior vice-president of stakeholder communications and relations included this line: “Experience at the highest level with regards to the City of Toronto’s political realm, ideally having had experience working in the Mayor’s office.”

None of the other more junior postings, including for a director of development, included that qualification. The deadline for applications is March 4.

After being contacted by the Star, CreateTO changed the qualifications to say: “Experience working within a political environment at either the municipal, provincial or federal level.”

CreateTO spokesperson Susan O’Neill told the Star on Friday the wording would be adjusted to the online posting to attract a larger pool of candidates. She said there was no involvement or influence from the mayor’s office.

In 2017, council voted to create a new super realty agency responsible for nearly 8,500 properties, representing more than $27 billion in public assets — which city staff reported then was one of the largest portfolios in Canada — as well as future real estate transactions.

As a public agency of the city, it folded together responsibilities from the city’s real estate division, as well as the former Build Toronto and Toronto Port Lands Corporation. It was called the Toronto Realty Agency and later branded CreateTO.

Several senior members of Tory’s staff left the mayor’s office shortly before or just after his re-election last year.

They include chief of staff Chris Eby, who is now an executive at Downsview Metro Development. Asked if the posting was intended for him, Eby noted his new job in a message and said, “Not for me.”

Siri Agrell, the mayor’s former director of strategic initiatives, is now the managing director for OneEleven Toronto, a startup accelerator where she confirmed Friday that she is “happily and productively employed.”

Amanda Galbraith, who left her post as the mayor’s director of communications in 2016, is now a principal at communications firm Navigator. “While I’m flattered you reached out, I’m happy in my role with Navigator,” she said in a message.

Tory’s former principal secretary, Vic Gupta, has remained “happily unemployed,” he told the Star’s David Rider last week. Gupta left the mayor’s office as the second most senior staffer at the beginning of the second term after co-chairing Tory’s re-election campaign.

Gupta, in an email, said: “I’ve just reviewed the job profile you forwarded and I can confirm that I have no intention of applying for that job.”

Tory was invested in the creation of the new agency to better oversee the city’s real estate portfolio, calling it one of the “most vital, strategic assets that we have in the city” and advocating for less bureaucracy in its governance.

“As long as I’m here, I will be watching this like a hawk,” he told city council in May 2017 when the new body was approved.

“Because I don’t want to have had responsibility for creating something that’s either a monster or that works worse, if there’s such an expression, than what we had there now with that entangled system.”

Tory spokesperson Don Peat said Friday that the mayor’s office had “no involvement in the posting” and referred questions to CreateTO.

City spokesperson Brad Ross said the city “does not provide recruitment support or advice to agencies, boards and commissions,” when asked about whether there are hiring guidelines. “Those matters are handled directly by the agencies themselves.”

Councillor Gord Perks said a posting specifying someone with experience in the mayor’s office was “outrageous.”

“It’s fine to say that you have to have experience in government,” Perks said. “The list gets a lot smaller and a lot more intimate when it’s people who have dealt with Mayor John Tory . . . That narrows it down to about five people and that’s the worst kind of cronyism.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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RCMP tightens online posting rules after misleading message on guns

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The RCMP has improved its internal approval process for online postings after sending out a potentially misleading message on firearms earlier this year, a House of Commons committee heard this week.

The procedure and house affairs committee has been hearing testimony about whether an RCMP post about Bill C-71 was in contempt of Parliament for treating the Liberals’ firearms bill as law when it’s still twisting its way through the Senate.

If passed, the controversial legislation would reclassify two types of firearms — most models of the Ceska zbrojovka CZ-858 rifle and certain Swiss Arms firearms — as ‘prohibited’, which means owners would have to apply to have their rifles grandfathered or face dispossession.

In an April online bulletin, the RCMP warned gun owners that « if your SA firearm was listed in Bill C-71, it will be classified as a prohibited firearm, » and went on to explain the steps gun owners would have to take to get their guns grandfathered.

Conservative MP Glen Motz raised a question of privilege in the House in May over what he called the « presumptuous » language in the bulletin. Later that day, the RCMP changed their wording.

On Tuesday, Louise Baird, who works in the strategic communications and ministerial affairs unit within the Treasury Board Secretariat, told the committee that the RCMP already has tweaked its internal process for online postings since the contempt question was raised.

« It sounds like there were process problems in terms of who was approving that web content and I understand the RCMP has modified their processes to ensure they have the appropriate levels of approval in place, » she said. « They’ve ratcheted up what the approval levels have to be. »

Sanctions on the table

It now falls to MPs on the committee to write a report about whether they believe the RCMP should face sanctions.

Charles Robert, clerk of the House of Commons, suggested government departments and their agencies likely will be more careful online going forward.

« As cases arise, members of the various departments who deal with communications respecting legislation before Parliament will become more sensitive and will avoid these kinds of careless errors, because one assumes none of this was intentional, » he said.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan, who appeared before the committee earlier this month, said the force is « very regretful » over the incident.

The RCMP website now includes a clarification. (RCMP)

« The irony of that is that the whole intent of the efforts by the staff was to assist Canadians, not cause any confusion, » she told the committee.

Her colleague Rob O’Reilly, director of firearms regulatory services, said the goal was to prepare firearm owners for potential changes.

« In short, we had two choices: say nothing, wait two years and then tell people that it was too bad for them, or communicate the information in advance. We wanted to give them this information so they could make good choices, » he said.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended the force, saying it « fully respects the authority of Parliament and the legislative process. »

« The language of the initial web content on Bill C-71 was not intended to assume the passage of the legislation, contravene the legislative process, or undermine the authorities of Parliament, » he told the committee.

« The revised web content removed potentially misleading language and clarified the status of Bill C-71. »

Goodale called on the committee to recommend safeguard mechanisms in the communications process to prevent similar incidents in the future.

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