Councillor Doug Holyday figures it's "full steam ahead" for the $150-million renovation of historic Union Station now that the provincial integrity commissioner has deemed the process the city used to pick a private sector developer for the project was "not corrupt."But the chair of council's administration committee could be in for a surprise when he and seven colleagues meet next month to give further consideration to the 100-page report delivered by Justice Coulter Osborne to City Hall last week.
A poll of admin committee members conducted by NOW this week indicates the group is split right down the middle on the matter of whether Union Pearson Group - a local consortium that includes corporate heavyweight Larry Tanenbaum and other Friends of Mel - should retain the title of preferred developer. It was awarded almost a year ago by a controversial panel well-populated with senior city bureaucrats.
"This has to be beyond squeaky clean," advises councillor Brian Ashton. "This is a proposal and an agreement that God's going to have to be happy with." It may take more than the seven months remaining in the current council term to sort this one out.
Osborne's review of the process used to pick Union Pearson Group over U.S.-based LP Heritage may have determined that planning commissioner Paula Dill was only being "patently unreasonable" when she gave the American firm straight zeros in the critical financial categories and swung the competition in Union Pearson's favour, Ashton says. But he maintains the retired judge raised enough questions about the way the choice was made (including the total absence of proper public consultation) to cause councillors considerable concern.
"I still see the two proponents as being equal," Ashton says. "Until we complete a thorough review of our own, we could still reject (the Union Pearson proposal) as an unsupportable proposition." It should be noted that Ashton was one of the 34 councillors who supported the local consortium when it was approved in principle as the Union Station renovator last summer.
But that was before word got out that important documents related to the scoring had been shredded (simple human error, Osborne ruled), that Dill had hit LP Heritage with a bunch of goose eggs ( "a gross overreaction" to business stories in the Wall Street Journal, but nothing evil) and that Mayor Mel Lastman's lawyer son Dale was a business associate of Tanenbaum's (absolutely no conflict there, Osborne decreed).
"I don't think so," Ashton says emphatically when asked if a Union Pearson recommendation would be on the agenda of council's June 24 meeting. "The level of due diligence required is substantial."
Councillor Rob Ford, the admin committee member who went public with Dill's taste for zeros, was one of only two politicians (Michael Walker was the other) who voted against Union Pearson the first time around. And he's still dead set against the way the company was picked.
"There's no way I'll support going ahead with this," Ford says. He maintains that Osborne's review didn't dig deep enough. "I think this was a done deal before it started. The whole process was just a farce."
Councillor Anne Johnston won't go quite that far, but says, "I'm really concerned about the way things were done." As far as she is concerned, the city should start the process over.
Committee member and mayoral candidate David Miller adds, "At a minimum, we need to make a decision that's independent from the evaluation process that happened. "We got a lot of things wrong - particularly the public participation."
Like Holyday (plus councillors Frances Nunziata and Paul Sutherland), David Soknacki thinks the committee should recommend council push ahead and finalize negotiations with Union Pearson Group. "I have questions, but I will not be voting to throw the baby out with the bath water."
Soknacki does concede that what was once council's near-solidarity on the Union Station redevelopment plan has started to slip. There's the November 10 municipal election to think about. Soknacki says the "real question" for councillors now is whether to make a decision now or wait till the next term. "I'm really concerned about what's happening now. It's a mess.'
Which is precisely why Michael Walker believes the current council should "cancel the process" and let a new political administration tackle the issue next year. "If they forge ahead and try to ram it through, it will have a stench to it that will never be cleared," Walker says. Walker is not a member of the administration committee, but he plans to attend its special meeting tentatively scheduled for June 17 so he can say his piece.
But Holyday insists Walker and Co. are simply upset because Osborne didn't side with their "cloudy" view of the Union Station deal. The admin chair says the longer council delays a decision, the more expensive the Union Station redevelopment becomes. He adds that the city would leave itself open to a huge lawsuit if it declares its initial decision null and void. "We should get on with it," Holyday says. "There was nothing corrupt. There was nothing improper."