Metrolinx feared grants would be linked to pre-mayor Tory

Metrolinx feared grants would be linked to pre-mayor Tory

Metrolinx feared grants would be linked to pre-mayor Tory:

TORONTO – Over-prepare much?

That appears to have been the case with Metrolinx communications staffers who, in the weeks before the release of documents about a controversial grant-giving program, feared reporters would somehow link the agency’s spending spree to John Tory in the years before he ran for mayor.

Documents obtained by the Toronto Sun through a freedom of information request show Metrolinx staff prepared a note for high-ranking government bureaucrats as they expected tough questions from reporters regarding a grant program which doled out $1.3 million over five years.

John Tory and Mitzie HunterThe taxpayer-funded agency, which is tasked with building transit across the GTHA, started spending the cash in 2010 to fund sponsor studies, conferences and academic papers.

Critics slammed the spending as being outside of the agency’s mandate and designed to bolster its poor reputation.

But along with developing polished media responses to defend the outlay of public money, Metrolinx staff also prepared for what they thought would be questions about a $25,000 grant to CivicAction in 2012 for a conference. Tory chaired the group at the time.

Staff appear concerned the grant would be perceived by media to have given John Tory an advantage, years before he successfully ran for mayor of Toronto.

“Was the sponsorship linked to any agreement to work with him on transit plans?” the document anticipates journalists will ask.

Metrolinx media relations department, which prepared the document, insisted the answer was no.

“Our sponsorship did not involve any assistance with any aspect of a political campaign that, at that time, did not even exist,” the documents say.

When asked recently why Metrolinx thought media would link the grant program to Tory’s eventual campaign, Metrolinx told the Toronto Sun the agency’s bureaucrats were just doing their job preparing for all possible questions.

“As communicators, part of our role is to identify potential or perceived issues, even when unfounded,” said agency spokesman Anne Marie Aikins, who noted Metrolinx did not provide any of the mayoral candidates with assistance during their campaigns in 2014.

Tory spokesman Amanda Galbraith told the Sun Tory held many volunteer roles in the city before running for office in 2014.

“As a founding member and former chair of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, the mayor brought together people from all corners of Toronto to come up with solutions to the city’s most challenging issues, such as the need for more transit and housing, how to reduce poverty in the city and tackle our infrastructure deficit,” she said in a statement.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has ordered a sweeping review of Metrolinx, focusing on a number of areas including communications between the agency and the government. That internal probe is expected to be completed by September.

Tagged , , , .