Keeping the lid on scandal

After months of chicanery, the public is still being kept out of the Union Station loop

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All the criticism

Now, the former justice may be of the opinion that the flawed process used to choose Larry Tanenbaum and his Union Pearson Group for the big job was “on balance, fair” and free of corruption. But he also took the city to task for failing to communicate with the taxpaying citizenry while it went about the business of choosing a well-connected private sector firm for the job of renovating a long-neglected public monument. “I think that it would have been better had more information been made available to the public before the determination of the preferred proponent,” Osborne said. “I see no reason why disclosure of competing design concepts should not be permitted.’

So did the committee rise to the integrity commissioner’s challenge when it had its first opportunity to do so on Tuesday afternoon (June 17)? Not on your life. Oh, the vaunted “general public” was invited to attend the meeting on the second floor of City Hall and to make deputations to the eight councillors who sit around the table. But even that democratic right was perverted when councillor Doug Holyday, the committee chair, advised the assembly that there would be no presentation from staff on the matter and the folks who’d showed up to voice their objections were ushered to the top of the speakers list.

Originally, four reps of Union Pearson Group had been scheduled to say their piece first on a document issued by the city clerk’s office. But Holyday was quick to dispense with that little formality. Far be it for him to have the developer make a presentation that its critics could then pick apart. Some concerned citizens objected to the unilateral move, but to no avail. The Union Pearson Groupies were moved to the bottom of the list.

Local historian Stephen Otto said councillors like Holyday may be convinced the arrangement with Union Pearson Group is better than one put together by its U.S.-based competitor, LP Heritage. But, Otto said, he had only the councillor’s word on that. Almost anything of relevance to the financial side of the deal has been deemed unfit for public consumption by senior bureaucrats backed by city lawyers. Never mind all that stuff about the destruction of documents related to the developer selection process and the alleged theft of others from the office of the former director of the city’s corporate access and privacy office.

“You’ve not taken us, the citizens of this city, into your confidence yet,” Otto lamented. “It is not reasonable for you to ask us for our trust if you’re unwilling to trust us.” Speaker after speaker made the same point.

“Council has lost sight of the public interest,” said Lawrence David, the man whose request under municipal freedom of information guidelines revealed the theft and destruction of documents. If it hadn’t been for David, councillors would never have learned about that fiasco or the fact LP Heritage was originally considered the best bet for the Union Station reno.

But few committee members wanted to hear any of that. Councillor Paul Sutherland made a big deal about the public advisory committee that has now been established to oversee the future of Union Station. But of what consequence is that when all the key decisions have already been made?

When the Union Pearson deputants finally took their turn at the podium, they expounded on what their consortium will do once the final terms of the lease are worked out so council can approve the master agreement in July or, more likely, September. And, unlike the deputants who oppose the plan, the Union Pearson contingent was not limited to a measly five minutes each. They were allowed to go on and on And no one from the public gallery was allowed to question them.

Councillor and mayoral candidate David Miller urged his committee colleagues to invite LP Heritage to make a similar presentation before any redevelopment contract is formalized. But that notion was rejected by a majority of councillors.

That didn’t sit well with councillor Rob Ford, who wanted the committee to ditch Union Pearson and start the whole process over again with public participation. “This does not look right and it does not smell right,” he said. Ford also demanded that a report concerning the break-in be made public. Sorry, corporate services commissioner Joan Anderton told him. Such matters are dealt with “in camera.” And the burglary report is so hush-hush, even the commissioner hadn’t seen it. Damned if the general public was going to get a peek.

It was pretty much the same story at the mayor’s policy and finance committee on Monday (June 16), where a bridge to an expanded Toronto Island Airport was given the nod over residents’ objections. Next week council will consider the committee’s recommendation that the city pay the Toronto Port Authority almost $50 million to settle a frivolous $1-billion lawsuit launched against the old city of Toronto. And like the Union Station deal, this outrage was cooked up behind closed doors. That’s Mel Lastman’s legacy.

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