TORONTO - We get the representation we deserve in a democracy. Tonight, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) will select its new Chair.
For those who have been following the proposed joint-venture partnership between the TCDSB and the Villa Charities INC (VCI), this exercise may be an illustrative lesson in the concepts of accountability, transparency and indeed establishing mission statements (purpose/goals).
The purpose of Villa Charities – initially known as the Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation, a not for profit community organization – was to provide the cultural and social amenities required by the Italian Canadian population resident in the GTA, and to promote and advocate for its interests in the larger Canadian context.
It is still unclear how Villa Charities and its “development arm” VCI legally morphed into a private corporation whose primary purpose is to build condos for seniors. It is also unclear how the revenue from the assets it has appropriated and which it proposes to “improve” will be distributed as per its founding vision statement.
The net assets are not insignificant. In 2015 the reported total was $57,692,463. For the same year, they declared $8,880,347, of which $1,595,422 came from another “registered charity” (Villa Charities Foundation?). They paid $2,020,708 in salaries and compensation.
Briefly, they don’t have much left over to finance the massive condo development project they envision for the Columbus Centre site. Not enough to attract third party investments.
Unless the TCDSB, an organization that exists only because it receives public funds, for the purpose of educating the Catholic children of Ontario’s citizens, intervenes to enable them.
The TCDSB receives more than $1 billion in grants from the Provincial government for student needs (in classroom program instruction) annually; additional sums for capital expenditures (school retrofitting and/or construction). How they use that money should impact quality of education. It also impacts land use and property values.
The new Chair will have a great deal of clout on educational directions as well as on “benefits” that accrue from decisions to retrofit or to build. Or, as in the case of the Columbus Centre, demolish and “reimagine” a new school. The answer to the question, “cui bono?” remains the same.
TCDSB has spent at least $18 million, so far, in acquiring land, and proposes an additional $22 million (both sums from the euphemistic Education Development charges imposed on builders) to acquire the Columbus Centre, demolish it and build a new expanded Dante Alighieri Academy with the $32.8 million earmarked by the Provincial government.
Incidentally, according to MPP Mike Colle, the latter sums were originally indicated for retrofitting two schools: Regina Mundi and Dante Alighieri. Relocating on Columbus Centre lands will force the construction of a roadway that will release properties at the Southwest corner of Lawrence and Dufferin for the proposed massive condominium project. Fine. Who benefits?
On the November 16 TCDSB meeting, notwithstanding the agenda orchestration to exclude registered intervenors who oppose the project, some Trustees turned themselves into pretzels so as to vote against a simple motion calling for reasonableness and setting conditions before a serious debate on the value to the TCDSB and Catholic education such a project might present.
Two of those Trustees are actively pursuing nominations for provincial parties. Janet Davies for the current Liberal government – which has indicated a reluctance to proceed on the proposal – and Angela Kennedy for the Conservatives, whose leader has not yet pronounced on the plan. Whose interests are they promoting?
Another, Nancy Crawford, who attended the “contrived consultation exercise” on November the 14th at Sala Caboto, has close ties with the Diocese. Its interests in the parish stand to be seriously affected by the decision to approve the proposal.
She did not declare a conflict, and perhaps has none, but she is seeking the Chairmanship. She is supported by Maria Rizzo, the current local Trustee, who, despite massive expression of local opposition to the project, continues to support the demolition of the Columbus Centre, as she did once again on the 16th.
Ann Andrachuck, another candidate for the Chair seemed at least to listen to citizens who stayed until just before 11:00 pm to see the outcome of their interventions. She voted to support them. Barbara Poplawski, a Real Estate agent by day, did not. Her electors filed a letter with the Minister of Education alleging conflict of interest in decisions related to a school and its community in Etobicoke.
As Paul Cavalluzzo, noted lawyer and intervenor, indicated in his submission, the TCDSB may be facing an existential crisis in the near term. It may therefore require leadership with an ability to listen.