The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - When faced with persistent challenges, successful corporations overhaul of their C-suite or regenerate members of their Board. The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) may be facing such a decision.
On February 14, as reported in the Corriere Canadese on February 15, Minister of Education Naidoo-Harris advised the TCDSB, through its Chair, Barbara Paplawski, in a formal letter, that the government of Ontario would withdraw its support for the expenditure of $32.8 million in the joint-venture “community hub” with Villa Charities Inc (VCI).
It is safe to surmise that the Minister was losing confidence in the TCDSB’s ability, or commitment, to make the right decision. She cited concerns that the Columbus Centre would be demolished, absent the demonstration of “overwhelming support” as required by a November 16, 2017, governing Motion by Trustee Piccininni.
One need only read the recommendation report, prepared by Director Rory McGuckin to the TCDSB for the upcoming Board meeting, February 22, to understand the world of “smoke and mirrors” in which it operates; and, to appreciate Minister Naidoo-Harris’ the basis for her suspicions. The cost of the Report is listed as 90 hours of Staff time – roughly equivalent to $10, 000, based on Senior Staff remuneration estimated at an average of $4, 000 per week per Superintendent.
McGuckin makes four significant admissions: (1) demolition of the Columbus Centre was always a part of the redevelopment project – a direct contradiction of Trustee Rizzo oft-repeated nonsensical claim that she wants to save the Centre, (2) the Consultants’ report not only did not find evidence of “overwhelming support” required to overturn Trustee Piccininni’s Motion, it recommended a “start over” process, which should include two more phone surveys, (3) local Press/Media – Italian – consistently reported and commented on widespread opposition to the proposal, (4) Staff (executive superintendents) were preparing to recommend moving ahead with the project, in defiance of logic, prior to the Valentine’s Day letter. Just incredible! Minister Naidoo-Harris may have saved the TCDSB from itself, and McGuckin’s job along the way. Without her “Valentine’s Card”, the Ministry would have been faced with having to “reverse” a decision of the Board, thus prompting a jurisdictional issue as the Province enters a provincial election. Something that Trustee Rizzo was prepared to risk, judging by her whining to an English language daily in an interview on February 17 that the province was undermining a local jurisdiction.
The TCDSB has been placed under Provincial supervision in the past. Why risk it again? Suspicious minds have been, of late, pointing fingers at the “material interests” of some Trustees and Board officials as an explanation for the TCDSB’s insistence in demolishing the Columbus Centre. The demolition paves the way for Planning changes to accommodate “condo heaven” – estimated market value of $1.5 Billion - at the southwest corner of Lawrence and Dufferin. No-one has provided substantive evidence to back up the allegations, and the Corriere has not proven them independently, but their persistence speaks to the reputational damage some Trustees, “mesmerized” by Trustee Rizzo’s “spin and persuasion”, are prepared to risk.
To suggest that the entire affair will fill the annals of [extravagantly expensive] communications and public relations horror stories would be an understatement of the obvious. But the matter is far from over.
On February 22, the TCDSB must still vote on McGuckin’s recommendation. Delegations by the public must still make their points. The underlying matter of “who owns the Columbus Centre” is still unanswered.
Nor is that likely to change until, and if, the TCDSB produces the Agreement of Purchase and Sale it struck with Villa Charities Inc, as well as the attendant Redevelopment Agreement for which timelines the Board gave McGuckin authority to extend, in Private session, after concerned citizens departed, following the presentations of heated delegations in public session.
Overshadowing everything is the conduct of the “other partner”, VCI. After the “Valentine’s Day card” its website declared, in a statement written in the “imperial we” style, that VCI remains committed to the Redevelopment project.
It was not signed by either the Villa Charities Chair, Nina Perfetto, or Aldo Cundari, VCI Chair, although one or the other must have given approval. However, the CEO of VCI is scheduled to make a presentation to the TCDSB on February 22, conveniently after all opponents to the Plan speak.
Opponents of the project/boondoggle will have to wait out the entire Board meeting to avoid another decision by s