Reporters (even columnists) like the Sun's Sue-Ann Levy are rare and to be valued by their employers (and readers) more than their paycheques may indicate.
Recently, the dogged Sue-Anne has been rattling the cage over what's called the revitalization of Regent Park from low-income, affordable housing, to mixed-income housing where, presumably, the complex will more or less reflect society in general.
As a theory this makes sense, and with luck it sometimes works out.
The focus of the fuss over the Regent Park revitalization is that Councillor Pam McConnell snagged one of the prime, 1,200-square foot condos for $400,000-plus, while many former residents were moved out with the assurance that they could return -- a promise that was reneged on.
After Sue-Ann's digging and documentation, Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) announced that former Ontario Chief Justice Patrick LeSage would conduct an independent review of the Regent Park condo purchases.
This has got people like Pam McConnell squeaking: Witch hunt, unnecessary, scape-goating, waste of time and money, right wing paranoia, envy, and all that.
Without having a clue about what Justice LeSage will or won't find in his review, I'll be surprised if he finds anything that's overtly illegal.
But he may find plenty that's ethically questionable.
For example, McConnell's grabbing for herself the first and arguably the best condo, looks bad. Not illegal, perhaps, but the cosmetics feed the prejudices of those who expect those in power to look after themselves first at the expense of others.
Leading by example is an increasingly rare quality among those we elect to be . . . wait for it . . . "leaders." We know that various politicians get salaries, pensions, perks, and privileges that are unavailable to citizens who are not elected to significant office -- and forget the adrenaline kick many get from being privileged and in control.
While the revitalization of Regent Park as a private-public development may be in the public interest and betterment of the city and its residents, it really looks bad when TCHC executives and staff, and even staff of the developer, seem to get preference in buying condos (at market price, and without discounts), while growing numbers of former residents complain that they are discouraged from returning.
Again, there's no suggestion of illegality, just one of appearance.
It's not even conventional conflict of interest. One supposes Pam McConnell saw the purchase as a good deal, a good investment perhaps, and acted. If that was her thinking, it might also have been the thinking of someone else who is not a politician, but never got the chance to act.
The Sun even ran a transcript of the contract people signed, accepting alternative residences while their Regent Park accommodation was being revitalized. The contract clearly states that the person can stay permanently in the new designated unit, or refuse the offer and wait for another.
The key aspect seems to be the boldface sentence: "By accepting this new unit, you have exercised your right to return." Surely that means "right to return" to Regent Park? Maybe Justice LeSage will have something to say about that to people now claiming there is no room for them at Regent Park.
If Pam McConnell were not the new owner of one of the condos, one can see her becoming duly indignant that a former resident is now refused the right to return.
Maybe she doesn't see that as a conflict of interest, but Sue-Ann Levy and others sure do.