Job posting for city agency seeking former staff from mayor’s office prompts ‘cronyism’ complaint

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A posting for a senior position at the city’s new body overseeing its massive real estate portfolio appears tailored to former members of Mayor John Tory’s staff or that of previous mayors.

The job qualifications for CreateTO’s senior vice-president of stakeholder communications and relations included this line: “Experience at the highest level with regards to the City of Toronto’s political realm, ideally having had experience working in the Mayor’s office.”

None of the other more junior postings, including for a director of development, included that qualification. The deadline for applications is March 4.

After being contacted by the Star, CreateTO changed the qualifications to say: “Experience working within a political environment at either the municipal, provincial or federal level.”

CreateTO spokesperson Susan O’Neill told the Star on Friday the wording would be adjusted to the online posting to attract a larger pool of candidates. She said there was no involvement or influence from the mayor’s office.

In 2017, council voted to create a new super realty agency responsible for nearly 8,500 properties, representing more than $27 billion in public assets — which city staff reported then was one of the largest portfolios in Canada — as well as future real estate transactions.

As a public agency of the city, it folded together responsibilities from the city’s real estate division, as well as the former Build Toronto and Toronto Port Lands Corporation. It was called the Toronto Realty Agency and later branded CreateTO.

Several senior members of Tory’s staff left the mayor’s office shortly before or just after his re-election last year.

They include chief of staff Chris Eby, who is now an executive at Downsview Metro Development. Asked if the posting was intended for him, Eby noted his new job in a message and said, “Not for me.”

Siri Agrell, the mayor’s former director of strategic initiatives, is now the managing director for OneEleven Toronto, a startup accelerator where she confirmed Friday that she is “happily and productively employed.”

Amanda Galbraith, who left her post as the mayor’s director of communications in 2016, is now a principal at communications firm Navigator. “While I’m flattered you reached out, I’m happy in my role with Navigator,” she said in a message.

Tory’s former principal secretary, Vic Gupta, has remained “happily unemployed,” he told the Star’s David Rider last week. Gupta left the mayor’s office as the second most senior staffer at the beginning of the second term after co-chairing Tory’s re-election campaign.

Gupta, in an email, said: “I’ve just reviewed the job profile you forwarded and I can confirm that I have no intention of applying for that job.”

Tory was invested in the creation of the new agency to better oversee the city’s real estate portfolio, calling it one of the “most vital, strategic assets that we have in the city” and advocating for less bureaucracy in its governance.

“As long as I’m here, I will be watching this like a hawk,” he told city council in May 2017 when the new body was approved.

“Because I don’t want to have had responsibility for creating something that’s either a monster or that works worse, if there’s such an expression, than what we had there now with that entangled system.”

Tory spokesperson Don Peat said Friday that the mayor’s office had “no involvement in the posting” and referred questions to CreateTO.

City spokesperson Brad Ross said the city “does not provide recruitment support or advice to agencies, boards and commissions,” when asked about whether there are hiring guidelines. “Those matters are handled directly by the agencies themselves.”

Councillor Gord Perks said a posting specifying someone with experience in the mayor’s office was “outrageous.”

“It’s fine to say that you have to have experience in government,” Perks said. “The list gets a lot smaller and a lot more intimate when it’s people who have dealt with Mayor John Tory . . . That narrows it down to about five people and that’s the worst kind of cronyism.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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2 Ontario mayors ask province to help employees fired from RV maker

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Two Ontario mayors say they have asked the province to help hundreds of employees who have lost their jobs at a recreational vehicle maker in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry said they learned late Friday afternoon that Erwin Hymer Group North America, which has its headquarters in Cambridge, has filed for receivership and all of its employees have been terminated. 

The company operated plants in the region and between 800 and 900 employees are now out of work, Vrbanovic said.

« This is sad news and our thoughts go to the hundreds of employees and their families impacted by this sudden event, especially as they started their Family Day weekend, » Vrbanovic and McGarry said in a statement.

In a video posted to YouTube, Erwin Hymer Group North America included this shot of the recreational vehicles it manufactures. (YouTube)

McGarry said in an interview CBC Toronto that the mayors are « quite concerned » about the families affected.

« It will be a difficult transition, » McGarry said on Friday.

‘Details are sketchy right now’

« There hasn’t been an official statement that we’ve seen at all from the company or the receiver. The details are sketchy right now about what may be transpiring at the moment. All we know is that the company went into receivership and sent out termination notices to all of their employees, » she continued. 

Two employees said on Twitter that they received termination notices on Friday.

The company did not respond to a request for comment. 

Both mayors said they have talked to Ontario Economic Development Minister Todd Smith to explore « all possible opportunities » for the company and its employees. 

McGarry and Vrbanovic said they have also asked the province to activate its « rapid re-employment team » to help the fired employees. The team can assist with retraining, McGarry said.

The mayors have talked to Ontario Economic Development Minister Todd Smith in the hopes that the province can activate its « rapid re-employment team » to help the fired employees. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

« Although this is shocking news today, there is hope that they will find good employment in the region of Waterloo, » McGarry said.

Erwin Hymer Group bought Roadtrek in 2016

According to the mayors, Erwin Hymer Group, which is headquartered in Germany, originally bought the Kitchener-based company Roadtrek in 2016. The corporation then expanded its facilities in Cambridge and located its North American operations there.

When Erwin Hymer Group North America opened its doors in Cambridge in September 2017, it produced this video.

Roadtrek, ​started by Jac Hanemaayer in 1974, provided employment to hundreds of people in Kitchener, the mayors added.

« What might offer some additional hope to these affected employees and their families is that our region does have a strong, robust economy and there are many other manufacturers and companies in our area which are currently looking for new employees, » they said.

« We are a resilient community, and as a community we will work through this together. »

On Feb. 1, Thor Industries, Inc., an American company that calls itself the the world’s largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles, announced that it had finalized a plan to buy Erwin Hymer Group. 

« The acquisition excludes EHG’s North American businesses, » the news release said.

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Big city mayors seek new relationship with Ottawa amid provincial-federal tensions

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OTTAWA—The mayors of Canada’s big cities have launched an election-year appeal for a new relationship with the federal government in the face of rising tensions between Ottawa and some provinces, a reality that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admits has created “challenges.”

The big city mayors’ caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities met with Trudeau and three key cabinet ministers Monday in Ottawa to lay out requests for the coming federal budget.

On the list was a call for an enhanced relationship meant, in part, as an insurance policy against municipal needs getting lost in provincial-federal tensions, something that Trudeau suggested may already be happening.

“We all serve the same citizens. We need to be doing it in a smart, strategic way,” he said.

“I think we all know how the political context is changing right now. We’re having sometimes certain challenges with the provinces in various ways,” Trudeau said at the start of the meeting.

Trudeau’s Liberals are odds with several provinces, including Ontario, notably on the issue of its climate change strategy. Municipal leaders fear those tensions could impair progress on initiatives, such as refugee settlement, that require discussions among all three levels of government.

“We need to be also thinking about scenarios where provinces are not co-operating. Unfortunately we’re seeing more of that than we’d like,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, chair of the mayors’ caucus.

That’s why the mayors want the next federal budget — the Liberals’ last before the October election — to announce a “clear federal intention and timeline” to create an intergovernmental forum for federal-municipal discussions that would also be open to provincial and territorial leaders.

The mayors say the forum would recognize that the issues facing cities, such as refugees, opioid addictions, are increasingly complex.

“When it comes to almost everyone of these issues, transit, community safety, housing, the people who deliver the actual product … are cities. They’re just not at these tables where these kind of decisions are being discussed,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory, who was at the meeting.

The appeal for a new relationship stirs memories of former prime minister Paul Martin’s “new deal for cities,” which sought to give cities better funding and a better relationship with Ottawa.

Yet federal politicians have generally been reluctant to formalize relations with municipalities, which under the Constitution are the direct responsibility of the provinces, a concern the mayors are trying to put to rest.

“This does not require a constitutional amendment,” Iveson said. “This is just common sense and it requires political will,” .

But the mayors’ proposal for a new forum got a decidedly cool reception in the private meetings with ministers and later in public.

“I think we have to be respectful of the provinces and the reality that provinces do work directly with municipalities,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters after his meeting with municipal leaders.

And Dominic Leblanc, the minister of intergovernmental affairs, refused to speak to reporters at all about the municipal requests.

The mayors might have better luck with their other budget demands. Those include a request to make permanent federal funding for public transit, beyond the existing 10-year, $3.4-billion commitment that began in 2016. The promise of funding would facilitate planning for these long-term projects, the mayors say. In the meeting with Trudeau, Tory said he cited the example of plans for a new relief subway line — on accelerated time line, it would be finished in 2029, two years after the current federal funding expires.

Also on the wish list is $2 billion more to help municipalities adapt to climate change.

Trudeau struck a more hopeful note on the topic of infrastructure spending.

“From our particular perspective, investing in infrastructure in our big cities is one of the best ways to create jobs in the short term but also meaningful growth and support for our citizens in the long-term,” he said.

Tory used the session with Trudeau to add another priority to the list — federal funding to build new housing across the country to support people with mental illness and addictions.

The failure to provide adequate support now is taking a heavy social and financial toll, Tory said, estimating that it costs each Toronto resident $50 a year.

“That is for the cost of emergency services, policing, homeless shelters that are trying to cope with people,” he said.

“That’s just the monetary side. The other side of it is that these people who are suffering from these illnesses are not getting proper care,” Tory told the Star in an interview.

A city-led survey of some 2,000 people who have been homeless found that 32 per cent reported a mental health issue and 27 said they had an addiction issue.

Last year, Toronto city council asked the federal and provincial governments to fund up to 1,800 new units of supportive housing a year for 10 years. “We have to be looking at that kind of ambition on this,” Tory said.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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Big city mayors call for emergency federal funding to deal with housing crunch

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The mayors of Canada’s largest cities are ramping up pressure on the Trudeau government to deliver a major cash infusion to cope with a housing shortage they say has been driven in part by refugees.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities ‘Big City Mayors’ caucus was to gather in Ottawa today before meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and delivering its election year wish list for the 2019 federal budget — the last of the Liberal government’s current mandate.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said his city had to absorb roughly $5.7 million in additional housing costs in 2017 related to a spike in asylum seekers crossing the border from the United States. He said he expects the city took a similar hit in 2018.

« What often happens is a government will make a decision at a senior level and the consequences trickle down to us, » Watson said.

« Toronto received $11 million in July to deal with refugee claimants. Our city has received nothing. »

Share the burden, mayors say

The mayors don’t appear to have a specific sum in mind for emergency federal housing money. In late 2017, the Trudeau government rolled out a 10-year, $40-billion national housing strategy meant in part to address a severe shortage of affordable housing units in major cities, but the mayors appear to be looking for more near-term funding.

The RCMP intercepted 19,411 asylum seekers outside official border points in 2018, down from 20,593 in 2017.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he agrees with Watson that the federal government ought to do more to share the burden of settling refugees outside of Toronto.

« [The federal government] makes the decisions about what happens at the border and Toronto is very supportive, for example, of admitting refugees, » he said. « We’ve had a historically compassionate approach in this country which we support. But the federal government, who admits refugees to the country, also has to take a hand in helping to house and settle them. »

Watson also said the federal government’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana use is ramping up the cost of police drug enforcement in his city.

« In our case we’re going to receive about $2 million for all enforcement inspections … and our staff estimate it’s more of a cost of $8 million so we’re going to have to absorb $6 million in costs, » he said.

« It’s almost like, you know, when the federal and provincial governments sneeze, we end up getting a cold. »

But the major ask from Canada’s largest cities is likely to be for federal transit funding. The mayors are looking for $34 billion over 10 years starting in 2028 for public transit services. Under their proposal, $30 billion of that would be distributed to cities based on ridership — $29 billion going to transit systems with a ridership over a certain threshold and the remaining $1 billion to smaller transit systems.

The other $4 billion would go to boosting ridership and to rural transit systems. The mayors also want the funding made permanent.

Political clout

« That allows Toronto to think about its next major subway expansion, it allows Halifax to start thinking about bus rapid transit and allows Edmonton to think about where light rail will go next, » said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson​, chairman of the big city mayors’ caucus.

Iveson said he and his other large city mayors swing considerable political clout in a federal election year.

« These 22 mayors represent more than half the country’s population and two-thirds of its economy. So you know we have an opportunity to influence the course of the country. »

Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne said his government has already invested billions in transit.

« There have been repairs and upgrades of more than 2,000 kilometres of roads and highways, more than 170 kilometres of new highway, and more than 70 new bridges, » he said in an email. « Public transit across the country has seen improvements, including more than 3,000 new buses purchased, 3,700 buses repaired and refurbished, nearly 15,000 bus stops and shelters been upgraded, and more than 200 transit stations built or upgraded. »

Along with Trudeau, the mayors are expected to meet today with Champagne, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc and Bill Blair, the minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction.

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Patrick Brown completes stunning political comeback by beating Linda Jeffrey in Brampton mayor’s race

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Patrick Brown, ousted as Ontario Progressive Conservative leader earlier this year, is the new mayor of Brampton.

Brown’s beleaguered political career was revived when he edged out incumbent Linda Jeffrey — about 4,000 votes separated the two — in one of the province’s tightest mayoralty races Monday night.

A buoyant Brown, who captured 44.4 per cent of the vote, with 148 of 169 polls reporting, told cheering supporters that Brampton deserves attention and investment from the province, from increased spending on hospital beds and transit to jobs.

“We’re not second-class citizens in Brampton,” he said, his wife Genevieve Gualtieri at his side.

“You want to visit Brampton? We deserve investment that comes with that visit.”

“My party is the people of Brampton and I want results,” he said.

Brown also took time to thank his campaign team and his family, but saved special praise for his new bride, Gualtieri. The couple married in late September and spent their first few weeks as newlyweds on the campaign trail.

“When we got engaged in March and we said we’re going to have a fall wedding, we never thought we’d be in the middle of a municipal campaign,” said Brown, who entered the Brampton race in July.

“So it turns out, our honeymoon was doorknocking,” he continued, as the crowd laughed.

“But what a phenomenal partner who would be by my side and (was) even willing to have a honeymoon that included doorknocking.”

Brown pledged to bring a non-partisan approach to managing Brampton city council — an approach he said is modelled on governing methods used by former Ontario premier Bill Davis.

“I’ve always considered him a mentor and a friend but frankly, an inspiration for the way politics should be,” Brown said of Davis, whom he phoned before addressing supporters.

Brampton’s new mayor said Davis “taught me about being collegial, about being non-partisan, about recognizing there’s no monopoly on a good idea.”

“I think the lesson for city council is: We’re a team and that we have to listen to each other and that to get good ideas from different perspectives makes you stronger,” Brown continued.

“To have ideas from different council members, to embrace good ideas — no matter who raises them — will make Brampton stronger. I think we need more Bill Davis in Brampton city hall.”

Jeffrey conceded defeat before all the polls were counted and congratulated Brown. She told her supporters that during her time in office that “together we brought in accountability, openness and transparency to city hall.”

“I can confidently say our city is in better shape than what I found it,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey, a former Liberal MPP, who resigned in 2014 to run for mayor of Brampton, had the backing of PC party operatives — Doug Ford’s campaign manager organized a fundraiser for her. Jeffrey won the 2014 mayoral election, ending Susan Fennell’s 14-year reign.

Brown stepped down from the Ontario PC leadership in January, following allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied and is fighting in a defamation lawsuit.

Brown served as a Barrie city councillor and MP for Barrie before stepping down in 2015 to run for leadership of the Ontario PC party, winning Simcoe North in a byelection that same year to become an MPP. He entered the Brampton mayor’s race in surprising fashion on the last day for candidate registration in July. He had earlier declared his intention to run for chair of Peel Region, before that race was called off by the provincial government.

Read more: For up-to-the-minute results, visit the Star’s municipal election page.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

Mary Ormsby is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Reach her via email: mormsby@thestar.ca

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