Regent Park deals were clean, report finds

Former Toronto Community Housing Corporation executives did nothing wrong when they bought condos in the Regent Park redevelopment that they helped oversee.

That’s the conclusion of an independent review authored by former Ontario Chief Justice Patrick LeSage and released on Friday.

The report was commissioned by the city-owned housing agency in April after a series of front-page articles in the Toronto Sun alleged that former TCHC CEO Derek Ballantyne and former CFO Gordon Chu were engaged in a conflict of interest when they purchased apartments in the 294-unit OneCole condo in 2009. Both men have since left the agency.

But LeSage found neither Chu nor Ballantyne, nor two unnamed mid-level TCHC employees who also bought units, received any unfair discounts or loans as part of their deals. Chu and Ballantyne reportedly bought their units at a market price of over $200,000 in June 2009, which LeSage noted was after three rounds of sales targeting former affordable housing tenants, early-bird registrants, and real estate brokers had already taken place.

And while the pair both bought parking spaces in the building for $9,500, well below the listed value of $22,000, at least 37 other people who bought in at the same time or later paid the same price.

“As a result, I am of the opinion that no executives or employees of TCHC were in a conflict of interest in purchasing these condominiums,” LeSage wrote.

In a statement emailed to media Friday morning, Ballantyne welcomed the report’s findings but said the accusations against him have been damaging.

“Sadly, the unjustified allegations against me have caused harm to my reputation,” he wrote. “I trust that those who have caused me unnecessary harm will proffer a full and unconditional apology.”

Aside from targeting TCHC management, the Sun articles also called into question the condo purchases of several executives at Daniels Corporation, the developer that is partnering with TCHC to rebuild Regent park.

LeSage found that five Daniels executives and two family members who bought units at OneCole received 2.5 per cent discounts, but because the mark-downs were subsidized by Daniels and did not affect TCHC profits, LeSage determined no wrongdoing had taken place.

While LeSage’s report vindicated the the executives, the retired judge conceded that an “appearance of a conflict” had taken place because a member of the public might reasonably conclude that the executives’ purchases had been influenced by their participation in the project.

To avoid apparent conflicts in the future, LeSage recommended that the TCHC implement a publicly-accessible registry of all financial transactions involving the agency and any of its employees or executives.

TCHC chair Bud Purves agreed that the optics of the purchases were less than ideal, and vowed to implement a registry before condos go on sale in October as part of Phase Two of Regent Park.

Purves also said he’d look into putting a cap on the number of units that can be purchased by people associated with TCHC or the developers, although he made clear he thinks those involved in the project should be allowed to live in the buildings as long as they buy in after prices have been set.

“If it’s transparent and open and disclosed, I support purchasers from the employees and staff expressing a vote of confidence in the projects on which they work hard,” he said.

New TCHC CEO Eugene Jones agreed that it’s a good idea to have TCHC staffers living in TCHC buildings.

“It shows a level of support, that we believe in our product,” Jones told reporters. “If I own Frito Lay, I want my employees to eat Frito Lay products. Same thing here.”

Councillor Frances Nunziata, who sits on the TCHC board, believes that the registry will bring greater accountability to the process, but said she doesn’t think it’s a good idea for TCHC workers to buy units in any project the agency builds.

“I personally don’t think so, but if you put the policy in place at least it’s public and people know about it, and then let the public decide,” she said.

Although the review cost $125,000 and found no wrongdoing, Nunziata said it was necessary because the agency’s reputation is still dogged by the spending scandal that Mayor Rob Ford seized on to dissolve the entire TCHC board in 2011.

“It was worth it because there was a big cloud over our heads,” Nunziata said.

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