Archive for August, 2007

A Royal Shame

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

All this time, all that money and only the names have changed in close to 100 years. The nature of “arms-length agencies” that control the Toronto waterfront remains the same.

But the time for change is near. Word has it the Filmport “Freedom of Information”, appeal court proceedings will be heard this November. And at that time, if justice is served, we the public will see another 99 year lease for friends of a CEO of an “arms length agency”.

Three individuals who played key roles directing the future of these agencies in the last 25 years within the Toronto portlands are Crombie, Eisen and Steiner.

David Crombie chaired a Royal Commission regarding the waterfront in the late 80’s. One element of that review was the Toronto Harbor Commission (THC). Crombie’s findings clearly determined the THC lacked transparency and accountability. He also recommended all the non-essential THC port property be transferred to TEDCO.

The THC was established in 1911 to bring some semblance of order to the growing business activity within the Toronto port. Over the years, their involvement evolved.

In reclaiming thousands of acres of land this “arm’s-length agency” helped develop and/or manage almost everything south of Front Sreet: the Toronto Islands, the Island airport, Ontario Place, the old Sunnyside Amusement Park. The list goes on. Many condos and businesses have now operated for years on this property. The Toronto Star, the Harbor Castle Hotel, the Exhibition and the land where home plate sits at the Skydome/Rogers Centre are a result of the THC. For a period of time, in the 50’s, the THC even had control over the Malton Airport, which we now refer to as “Pearson International”.

Clearly, there was a great deal accomplished. But over the years there were repeated claims of patronage and dirty deals.

Fred Eisen eventually took the helm and was appointed the CEO. His blatant disregard for the best interest of the THC was demonstrated by the many bad deals that transpired under his tutelage. From handing out 99-year leases of prime waterfront land to the outright sales of some of the most prized waterfront properties – his infamous legacy in the port is still felt today.

Recently, TWRC tried in vain to reacquire the last property Eisen sold. This same small 10-acre parcel, at the foot of Yonge St., would serve as the fatal blow that sunk the THC.

Eisen’s last deal, in fact, altered the city’s political landscape and led to years of government infighting and millions of dollars in legal fees paid by you and me, the taxpayers. The settlement was an agreement for a fixed-link bridge to the Island Airport.

By the way, this is the same Eisen that would later become the CEO of TEDCO, as a favour from Lastman, and give Steve Stavro a questionable long term lease. The public and political outcry from this deal led to a police investigation. Dale Lastman still sits on the MLG board.

The Royal Commission eventually thrust TEDCO to become the predominant body to manage the portlands.

Erkki Pukonen was the last CEO of TEDCO to disclose his salary. Since then there have been 3 or 4 CEO’s. None have disclosed their salaries, contrary to the “Ontario Financial Disclosure” laws.

For the last 5 or 6 years TEDCO has been run by Jeffrey Steiner.

Like Eisen, Steiner has little regard for transparency. Like Eisen, Steiner makes deals where friends get an unfair advantage over the competition. And like Eisen, Steiner is backed by the political powers of the day.

Miller openly admitted that, “arms-length agencies don’t always do the right thing”.

The MFP legal proceedings cost millions. Bellamy’s chief recommendations were for the City of Toronto to govern with transparency, openness and to establish a lobby registry. Nothing’s changed. Will we ever have another “tiny perfect Mayor”?

The only real difference is the THC made deals that were in the tens of millions; today, the TEDCO deals are in the hundreds of millions.

As was the lack of transparency with the Toronto Harbour Commission; so exists the same lack of openness today with Toronto Economic Development Corporation.

“Freedom of Information” is paramount to democracy.

And if nothing changes…… then nothing changes…

It’s a shame. We deserve better.

Bradlee Bravery the Pride of the Southern Post

Monday, August 27th, 2007

The Washington Post’s famous editor Ben Bradlee is a legend among those defenders of the American constitutional right for, “Freedom of the Press”.

In the early 70’s he backed his two young reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, and their dogged investigative work on the Watergate break-in. Few other papers had the courage to take on the story.

There is a classic scene in “All the President’s Men” when Bradlee under siege from the powers to be, writes on his note pad that “we stand by our story”.

Such was not the case last week at Canada’s National Post.

The Post should be ashamed with regards to last week’s correction. Corcoran, I am sure, had no choice in the matter and I suspect neither did his editor,

Speculating, I suggest that this correction was ordered by Asper at the request of Riseman or Bronfman. Or, Steiner may have sent a letter to the editorial board that is so factually misleading that the Post is not totally at fault. Nevertheless, the Post should have checked the sources prior to the correction.

Imperial Oil, in fact, both owned and leased property in the portlands. They wanted out of the downtown and were looking to relocate their oil tank farm to a more logistically efficient location north of the city.

The Harbour Commission actually held the Imperial lease for decades. Imperial, had agreed to pay a hefty sum to walk away from the said properties due to this liability. On the eve of completion, the city via TEDCO scooped the Toronto Harbour Commission on this deal and ended up keeping all of the money which was more than the stated $10 million. Imperial had been prepared to pay far more with the Harbour Commission.

Back then the environmental restrictions on contaminated property was far more stringent. TEDCO and Imperial Oil drilled hundreds of bore holes testing the soil. Consultants for both sides determined the payment according to the difference between the fair market value and the cost of the environmental liability.

Imperial wanted a solid indemnification in exchange for the monetary settlement. They would not accept one from the newly formed TEDCO, and when the city solicitor refused to endorse the deal the province was induced to eventually sign.

Now how can TEDCO possibly claim that this money, collected more then a decade ago is being used for the Filmport? Furthermore, the subsidies that the Filmport is receiving are in the hundreds of millions. A far cry from the $10 million reported in the Post.

Also, a percentage of the Filmport land is not even being built on the former Imperial Oil land.

The Post is either weak-kneed, incompetent, or alternatively, the cover-up of the Filmport development has spread from a political and judicial front, to now include the media.

Follow the money.

They’re at the Post

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

A Post veteran, namely Terrence Corcoran, wrote a great piece on the 14th of this month.

Unfortunately, today, there was a correction notice retracting Corcoran’s assertion that the city is subsidizing the Filmport development.

The National Post had been covering the corruption regarding TEDCO, Filmport, Toronto Film Studio, the proposed Wal-Mart at 629 Eastern as well as a host of other players involved in this crooked saga of corporate greed.

Yes, there had been a number of the Post’s more junior reporters on this beat. And yes, several months ago the Post’s coverage was producing some hard hitting investigative work.

But, looking back over the last 60 days the Post’s coverage on TEDCO has done an about-face.

Who got to who? Why the change from truthful reporting to controlled media propaganda?

Without a doubt in my mind, Corcoran is correct in writing that the Filmport is being subsidized. You ask how I am so certain?

Well as I reported earlier, Jeffrey Steiner refused to disclose the lease. When the adjudicator for the Freedom of Information Office ordered the lease to be produced, Miller ordered a judicial review.

What’s the big secret? And when I say big, I mean this cover-up goes all the way to the Mayor’s office.

To add fuel to the fire, the City openly acknowledged that Corus will receive a huge tax incentive to move into TEDCO’s “Project Symphony”. So obviously, the Filmport incentive is far greater than that of the Corus deal. If the subsidy was less, then Corus’, logic dictates, that the Filmport lease would be out there for the public to review.

Also the leaked TEDCO documents that I produced earlier showed initial Filmport negotiations referring to various subsidies. And with protracted compromise comes giving a little here and a little there. So as both sides reached a mutual agreement the subsidies increased.

Now, I would like to know, who at the Post has compromised their journalistic integrity and ordered today’s retraction?

Gimme Shelter

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Contrary to the hardened heart they are not there because they want to be.

The next time you look at someone on a grate bundled in clothes realize that they are there for a reason. Had they the ability to cope or the intestinal fortitude to carry on, I am sure they would, and often do, dream of a different life.

Many remain outside for fear of violence within the shelter system. As is the case, the weak are preyed on physically, sexually and financially. Some commit petty crimes come winter for the safe haven of a penal institution. Generically known amongst them as “3 hots and a cot”.

Some 30 odd years ago I entered a hostel for the first time. Since then I have had the experience to visit virtually all in the downtown core.

Often the shelter system is the last house on the block. Some residents handle the suffering with grace, others with resentment. At one time alcohol was the predominant vice, but now the devil is crack. One social element that has not changed is mental illness. Some shelters are big and inherently more dangerous. Others can be smaller and spiritually based. In most cases, the staffs are very dedicated and special people.

Learning to sleep with your shoes tied to your bed, in a social and economic jail, I am sure is not what their mother envisioned for them..

And so, the builders, engraved, compelling words in stone. Above the passage entering Toronto’s largest shelter, the Seaton House, reads “Someone’s Father, Someone’s Brother, Someone’s Son”.

Prophetic words that urge us into service and “harden not our hearts”.

The Greatest Gift

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Recently, in the press there was a sad incident regarding the loss of a young man’s life, from what many refer to as a “panhandler”.

Harold Drummond wrote a book, called “The Greatest Gift of All” that may help some to understand.

The thesis of this masterpiece emanates from ancient scriptures and is based on “faith hope and charity”. Drummond asserts that charity is that greatest gift.

It has been said, life does turns on a dime.

And such was the case on my way to the Hummingbird Centre, with my family, to see Big Bird and his friends. As I turned the corner, suddenly, a man reached out his cap, and asked, if I could spare some change. My son looked up, as I reached in my pocket. Walking away, hand in hand, I could feel the emotion swell into tears. And even as I write today, I am overcome with a deep sense of gratitude for this moment in time. I was given an opportunity.

All I can be to my children is an example. It is so vitally important that I show them acts of charity. I want so much for them to learn to give back.

Years ago, in university having flown to New York, for $37.00 on People’s Express, I encountered my first person, with a cap in hand. Roll the clock forward and Toronto, now, has many such people. We live in a big city.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the questions. But I do know that I am a very blessed person and do feel better when I reach in my pocket.

What’s That Smell…

Friday, August 17th, 2007

“Cirque de Soleil” is changing names, temporarily, while in Toronto, to “Cirque de Stinky”.

TEDCO officials are beside themselves, and complaints are growing over the “eau de toilette” in the air at the circus.

This could turn into a Seinfeld episode. Remember when Jerry lets a valet move his car and for the next 30 minutes the cast deals with the after effects from his stinky Saab?

The TEDCO office is becoming known as “brain cramp central”. Did they forget their thinking caps when locating this event across the street from a waste disposal facility?

Smelly Turtle Island Recycling is putting a damper on a pricey evening for circus goers. I ‘m sure the portable toilet operation and the nightly dumping of raw sewage a mere hundred yards away is passing wind.

The barrage of garbage trucks are leaving droppings on the road and some cars, failing to negotiate, have been seen pulled over with flat tires. My advice is to make sure your C.A.A. is up to date.

And what ever you do, turn off the air conditioner when approaching or your car could get “Seinfelded”.

Miller in a Heap of Trouble

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Can you imagine Adrian Heaps saying that his refusal to join Miller’s executive board is “not a rebuke” to the Mayor.

Really.

Let me state one fact. This new executive committee is a first for a Mayor of Toronto. Prior to this new City of Toronto Act, a mayor never had such powers.

Some in the press call this committee the “Mayor’s Cabinet”.

So ask yourself the question: Have you ever heard of anyone in Canadian politics refusing the offer of a cabinet position? I haven’t.

Next to being a Premier or Prime Minister, the cabinet is every politician’s dream job.

Councilors’ actions are speaking loud and clear. One after another are distancing themselves. They know Miller’s time is over.

Strong leaders are not afraid of debate. Miller should have kept Ashton. Such would have demonstrated needed democratic autonomy. This would have brought a more conciliatory approach and tone to council, a fact even Miller’s critics could not deny.

Miller thinks he’s a smart guy, but boy does he make some goofy rookie mistakes.

Once again he went public with his intentions without ensuring his plan would be implemented.

To get burned by Ashton was embarrassing. But to have a rookie councilor turn him down is politically humiliating.

Sailing Away…..

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

The demolition hoarding is now up at MT28.

The crew is wrecking full steam ahead.

I would imagine Jeff Steiner would rather have the Allsop building to move into, when considering, the blaaaa architectural design put forward by Jack Diamond – David Miller’s co-chair.

But being right on the water will have some advantages.

And so in another fine moment of great decision making by TEDCO, they picked a demolition company that a year or two ago knocked down a building and a wall fell on the neighboring property that was occupied by a school filled with children and yes there were many kids injured and even a fatality.

Priestly subsequently changed the company logo and I am not sure if the factual incorporated name has changed. The government fine was $200,000.00, and the lawsuits were many.

Way to go Jeff. Great choice.

Oh, by the way, did you know that Vince Nigro received a spanking brand new suburban, directly from Vic Priestly, when he worked for TEDCO, as V.P. Operations, before moving into his cozy relationship with MFP?

So Jeff, since your new office will be by the lake, tell Vick you want a boat.

Union Dues

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

I would like to be clear that I don’t believe that we live in a black or white world.

Hence my knock on city services was not directed at the many men and woman who serve this city.

My criticism was aimed at the poor systematic policy decisions.

Obviously politicians should not be taking pay raises in times of economic duress.

However, in a grey world I believe politicians are underpaid. But then, if you are going to run for office it should absolutely not be for monetary reasons.

Nevertheless, when cutbacks occur on the backs of the working people while elected officials pass personal pay increases then what do we expect but a deflation of morale?

When bureaucrats lack accountability while ruling their fiefdoms are workers supposed to give more?

For instance how is a cook at the Metro Convention Centre supposed to feel when he looks at the head chef who is collecting a $185000.00 dollars a year salary? To add to this insult the beverage manager snags a cool $165000.00.

Some of these management salaries are insane. And you have to believe that to some extent it is a morale killer.

So I believe that many union men and women work hard for their money – and their families.

It takes a lot of paddles in the water to row a boat as big as the city so when setting course all the crew deserves their due of respect.

A Cozy Costly View

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Corus wants the top floor.

But rumour has it that TEDCO is moving into the “Project Symphony”.

Of course Jeffrey Steiner wants the penthouse.

But the head of Corus seems to think this lofty position should go to the building’s anchor tenant.

In today’s world of cost cutting city measures is it really necessary for the taxpayer to pay for a TEDCO relocation? Furthermore, is it prudent use of our tax dollars to allow them to occupy this class A office space?

The negotiations are difficult but then, “heavy lies that head who wears the crown”.