A Royal Shame

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.

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