TORONTO - There are only so many ways that one can “screw up” a “slam dunk” (pardon the basketball imagery; a slam dunk is a guaranteed score, a “two-point basket” because the offensive player’s hand and the ball it holds have an unobstructed path to the basket mere centimetres away).
However, human propensity for stupidly insane decisions is like divine providence – without limits. Or maybe it was the infamous Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong, will) at work. The hand of both were in evidence at the public meeting held at the Sala Caboto, Villa Charities, January 15.
The public had been “invited” to receive and respond to the preliminary report by the two organizations tasked by the Toronto Catholic School Board and Villa Charities Inc – their “employer”, so to speak – to ferret out evidence that the “community” actually supports the demolition of the Columbus Centre and the attendant Condominium project.
An impossible task.
Especially since an inspired motion by trustee Sal Piccininni in November had required a demonstration of “overwhelming support” as a pre-condition for the TCDSB continuation of a partnership with the VCI.The “consultation had been preceded by (1) a meeting in May attended by over 500 local resident vociferously opposed to the project, (2) two North York Community Council meetings where Council unanimously rejected the plan as presented, (3) two unanimously negative votes at Toronto City Council, the second demanding that a proper consultation be conducted, (4) two public demonstrations in front of Columbus Centre, the second of which involved a march along the perimeter on the Villa Charities campus; Mayor Tory, Councillor Colle, Minister Albanese and MPP Mike Colle in attendance and supportive of the other 800 estimated participants ,(5) at least three federal MPs publicly declaring themselves against the joint venture. One of them a Caucus Chair and therefore speaking [likely] on behalf of the government; the other as Chair of the MPs adhering to the Italian-Canadian Caucus, (6) at least two TCDSB meetings where the public (despite some last-minute orchestration by “the powers that be”) unanimously argued against the joint proposal.
Orchestration and manipulation appear the tactics of choice by the Partnership- Developer (TCDSB/VCI). In December, the TCDSB rescinded a previously granted permit to MPP Mike Colle to conduct a town hall meeting at Dante Alighieri on the project; compelling him to seek accommodation in “a more Catholic-friendly” Synagogue, Beth Torah, nearby. Only 300 people were able to attend on the coldest night of the year.
For Monday’s meeting, 230 people – including those “bought and sold” by TCDSB/VCI – who had braved blizzard-like conditions were met by five burly police officers and Security guards.
Some “bright light” at the Partnership or the Consultation Team thought they must have needed protection from seniors and others who take the value of democratic engagement seriously. Questionable public relations tactic.
The audience listened politely and patiently to the laboriously painful and monotonous presentation of “methodology” that led to “findings”, demonstrating its growing restiveness with loud applause when the power point sheets reached number D.13: “… desire to keep… communities and identities separate, and no desire for a joint facility.” From there on in the crowd burst into virtually uncontrollable cheers or jeers whenever the presenter highlighted items which merited either – much to the chagrin of the Consultants. It was worse for the representative of Research ETC, the resource group who conducted aa telephone survey to “back up” the “findings” of Maximum City and Dillon Consulting. It is to laugh.
The crowd began to be more offended and restive. It is easier to understand why by reading the instruction Research ETC provided its callers: “…I am calling ... in your neighbourhood to understand how [people] use the neighbourhood services around them and what they think about them.” Followed then by, “READ ONLY IF RESPONDANT ASKS: This research has been commissioned by Maximum City and Dillon Consulting who have been retained as community consultants by Villa Charities and the Toronto Catholic School Board.”
Maximum City later acknowledged that the questions were drafted by TCDSB/VCI and the Consulting team. Guess what result they concluded after the survey? 55% or 155% in favour: would be the same.
When the audience was allowed to the microphone “all hell broke loose”. Intervenors were precise professional, incisive and firm. They were not going to be moved off their game, so to speak. Among the questions they raised – and which we will elaborate going forward – there was one that lay at the base of all: why did you not ask if anyone is favour of demolishing the Columbus Centre? The answer would have been obvious. It might have rendered the survey superfluous.
One attendee engaged trustee Rizzo in a heated shouting match concerning her obstinate desire to demolish the Centre and make way for condos. One cannot be impressed with her prospects of re-election.
Full disclosure: I attempted to address the audience, but the organizers preferred to “cut the mike”. I continued at any rate without the benefit of technology other than my vocal chords to summarize “the facts”.
Real classy on their part.