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Mayor vows 'to get to the bottom' of sole-source deal by TTC

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford outside his lawyer’s office in Toronto on Jan. 25, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Fresh off his legal victory, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed to investigate an "absolutely appalling" decision to award a $50-million contract for subway newsstands and cafés without any competition.

Mr. Ford used his radio show to attack the deal, which made headlines last week after TTC chair Karen Stintz defended the sole-source contract.

"It's an embarrassment," he said on Newstalk 1010 on Sunday. "There's something wrong with this picture."

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Mr. Ford also spoke broadly about his agenda for the "next six years" – he plans to run again in the 2014 municipal election – saying he wanted to focus on city building. In addition to finding efficiencies and improving customer service, he also emphasized job creation and developing "a broad transportation strategy" to tackle gridlock.

"I plan to spend the next six years getting the job done and a part of that is I want to move forward, build a consensus to drive my agenda forward," he said.

Mr. Ford was still jubilant about winning his appeal of a conflict-of-interest conviction that would have, if he had lost, forced him out of office.

The mayor saved his sharpest jabs for the TTC's deal awarding a $50-million contract to Tobmar Investments International Inc., the current operator of the TTC's 65 Gateway Newstands, two cafés, two bakeries and eight lottery booths. The contract, which includes a $1.5-million signing bonus and a pledge to invest $1.45-million in improving the outlets, is for 10 years with a five-year extension.

In awarding the sole-source contract, the TTC rejected staff advice to issue a request for proposals for operating the outlets.

Sam Davis, president of International News, a competitor of Gateway, spoke on Mr. Ford's radio show and said he would have offered 10 per cent more for such a contract.

"I'm going to look into this and get to the bottom of it," Mr. Ford said. "People are very upset. And, again, I said we're not going to have sole-source contracts and I mean what I say."

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However, Ms. Stintz said in an interview that Mr. Ford's office has been "fully briefed" on the contract, which she characterizes as a "lease extension," since October. Mr. Ford and Ms. Stintz traded voice mails last week, she said, but he did not mention he had a problem with the deal. She said she would have preferred that he had spoken with her first before raising his concerns publicly.

"At no point over the last four months, did anybody from the mayor's office or the mayor himself bring any concerns to my attention over this lease extension," said Ms. Stintz, whose name has been linked to a possible mayoral run.

The mayor's comments also prompted an angry exchange on Twitter between the politicians' aides.

Jean-Pierre Boutros, Ms. Stintz's policy adviser, wrote: "Can't help it if the Mayor can't (won't?) read briefing notes provided to/by his own staff, in October. I don't want to suggest a pattern ..."

That comment prompted a rebuke by Mark Towhey, the mayor's chief of staff, who said the "comments are unprofessional and reflect badly on your principal."

Mr. Boutros wrote: "My apologies for reacting naturally."

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