By Frank Touby –
The recent raise for Toronto’s dysfunctional city council—a curse of the previous provincial government that was operated by yokels—is mere peanuts, according to my friend Slovo the shoemaker.
He says he knows exactly why many politicians are willing to raise and spend vast sums of money and devote hundreds of hours schmoozing and posturing, yapping and posing, hand shaking and hand wringing for about what the manager of a successful shoe store might pull down.
“They’re looking for fame?” I suggest.
“Not for fame, most of them. For fortune,” he says, picking up a ladies sandal and brushing glue on the spot where he had removed the sole.
“I can’t see where the fortune is,” I reply.
“Well, in the city government there’s less of a fortune to be made than in the bigger theatres,” Slovo replies, bashing a newly placed sole with his fattest hammer. “But the principle is the same and there are some big dollars even for the locals if they can arrange favours for people with big dollars who can make more dollars after a small favour.”
“And that principle is…?” I ask.
“The principle is to erect a siphon,” he replies, followed by a hammer blow. “You have to figure out how to make a money siphon. It’s the same all over the world.”
“A money siphon? Like for stealing gas?”
“Exactly!” says Slovo. “The principle is very simple. A famous American criminal once said he robbed banks because that was where the money is. He was right, but he was chased all over that country and ended up dead and lost all his money.”
“We’ll all end up dead and have no money,” I say wisely. “So I gather you mean that gangster John Dillinger’s tommy gun was his siphon to drain money from banks.”
“So crude, don’t you think?” he asks. “And that’s not the real place where the money is. It’s at city hall and Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. It’s this huge pool of money they take in taxes, just shimmering and waiting for someone to tap in and drain it so they can cry poor and get more.”
“I still don’t know what you mean by a ‘money siphon’,” I say.
“Well,” he answers with exasperation in his tone, “we’d all like to dip our buckets in that pool but of course we can’t because there are so many of us.
“That’s because they watch us like hawks. It’s why the taxman will chase the little tax cheat to the ends of the earth, and sometimes allow the big fish to swim off untouched—there are many more little guys and that adds up.”
“So you’re saying a politician has access to the pool and can sort of stick a straw in there and start sipping?” I ask.
“No! Everybody would see him sipping!” Slovo exclaims. “In my old country they could do that, but not in the West. In the West you have to figure out how to construct a money siphon so nobody sees you taking the money.”
“Well, if you’re a politician you have an excuse to be close to the money pool. Right?”
“You mean the taxes,” I clarify. “I guess that’s right in a sense.”
“And you are elected to help spend the taxes for the public good, right?”
“The public good as you see it. Right?”
“Suppose you would like to think it’s a public good to have a Toronto Bicycle Authority. It’s almost like motherhood in Toronto. Bikes are almost sacred, so bike riders maybe need their own agency, especially if it’s free from the meddling council.
“The new TBA could do things like make rules for bicycle paths and regulate what kinds of tires bikes must have. And it could sue the city to make sure top-of-the-line bike paths are a priority and that the city is funding the TBA sufficiently to get all these wonderful things it has planned for bicycle riders. It could make the city subsidize bike users so they can buy the right tires.
“All this would come out of that big pool of tax money at city hall,” says Slovo. “The politician’s friends who are lawyers are happy because they’re making money suing the city and winning. The friends who sell tires and build approved bike paths are happy.
“The politician is happy because his friends are happy that he has constructed such a fine money siphon to help them. He becomes Mr. Bicycle at city hall.
“So you think he’s not getting some of this money from the empire he built?”
“No,” I reply. “Not necessarily.”
“Let me just say this, then, my naïve friend: You are a blind schnook,” said Slovo with a final hammer stroke before showing me to the door.