The Never-ending Saga of Villa Charities Inc.

di Joe Volpe del January 30, 2019

TORONTO - There used to be some shed of decency and altruism in the foundation stones of what is now called Villa Charities (Villa Colombo, Columbus Centre, its seniors’ residences and former social service agencies).

The most recent cadre of members of the respective boards and their chief administrative officials, appear to be engaged in putting that reputation to rest.

Their names and their games elicit comparisons to the sly, manipulative and malicious cast of characters conjured up in Ancient Greek Mythology.

They remind everyone that the price of “civility” is constant vigilance. The eminently forgettable former Chair of Villa Charities, in a presentation to the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), in answer to a question on what would, or should, happen to Villa Colombo in the event their VCI/TCDSB proposal to create a cluster of condominiums at 901 Lawrence (otherwise known as the Columbus Centre) were to succeed; it is obsolete, we’ll tear it down and replace it with townhouses, he said.

The first part of the plan didn’t quite work out. The coven of selfhating Italian-Canadian businessmen and women who had taken over The Villa, the Columbus Centre and their Operational arm, VCI, met with local, Community outrage and political opposition.

They and their legal team of development and regulatory lawyers included a member of the Board of St Michael’s College School (yes, that one); a lawyer who works in the Ministry of Finance; and, another who pompously introduced himself at a North York Community Council meeting as “Cue Enable” – clearly not his real name – concocted a plan to transform a community asset into condominiums for private profit.

The “Reimagine Plan” was highlighted by some questionable partnerships and tactics. These included, as later revealed in documents made public, spreading disinformation and outright lying - by individuals in a position of trust and by organizations whose raison d’etre is service and honesty.

When, in the Spring of 2018, the Government of Ontario withdrew its $33 million share in a combined school-community centre especially struck to facilitate the rezoning necessary for the “condominium- nization” of the quadrant known as 901 Lawrence, the Plan fell apart.

Its fate should have been sealed when the Toronto Preservation Board, instructed by City Council, a year earlier (in April of 2017) to provide an evaluation of the location, recommended, in a 37-page Report, that the Columbus Centre lands be added to the Registry of heritage sites.

Toronto City Council unanimously adopted the motion in its final, pre-election meeting in July. The Members of the Boards of VCI, Columbus Centre and Villa, had they been in any other environment, would have done two things: dismissed their CEO and then resigned.

Their reputation along with that of a once venerable institution in the Community, whatever is left of it, is in tatters. Now, even though they are a “not-for-profit, charitable” organization, filings with Revenue Canada suggest that no-one is willing to donate significant money to them any longer.

Still, are hanging on to yet another thread of hope for their commercial venture. The messaging rings with a certain familiar tune: Villa needs repairs and upgrading ($25 million, they claim). No money. We need to build condos to generate the cash, they maintain.

Their CEO is still drawing a handsome salary. Villa Colombo is now primarily a chronic care centre. It is completely funded by the Government of Ontario. The Board should be focusing on service, transparency and accountability.

The Premier’s special advisor on Health is the former President at the Humber Region Hospital, the CEO is his former Vice President of Finance. There must be synergies worth exploring. They could start clearing the air by initiating a forensic audit and making it public. Instead, they have turned their attention to what they hope will be a “Trojan Horse contained in the Toronto Preservation Report of 2018.

It is a simple sentence that forms part of the introduction. “The northern wing of the Villa Colombo is also located on the property at 901 Lawrence Avenue West, but it has not been included in this heritage evaluation”. Toronto City Council is being asked to consider applications for development on that site. They would be wise to send the applicants packing.

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