A $500-million development triggers a call for an independent investigation.
The province will have to agree but in today’s Toronto Star: Brampton city council is right to ask Ontario Ombudsman André Marin to investigate a controversial development
It was supposed to shine a light on Brampton’s murky business dealings, but a $269,000 report by a high-profile municipal lawyer has only generated more smoke.
Brampton residents, city council and Mayor Linda Jeffrey have every right to be outraged. Instead of supplying credible answers, lawyer George Rust-D’Eye’s report raised further questions about a controversial $500-million development deal, and about his own investigation.
Council was correct in unanimously voting to ask Ontario Ombudsman André Marin to launch an inquiry into the city’s procurements. Indeed, municipal leaders had little choice given what they were handed — a document repeatedly called a “whitewash” in Brampton’s council chambers on Monday.
As reported by the Star’s San Grewal, Rust-D’Eye exonerated city staff of any misconduct in a deal that had raised concern about how some developers were being treated. Council critics noted that he reached that finding through heavy reliance on claims made by the very staff he was investigating. That’s not good enough to maintain public confidence in the fairness of the process.
Concern was also expressed about Rust-D’Eye’s previous work for the law firm WeirFoulds, which was involved in the development deal’s initial stages. Rust-D’Eye said that connection did not pose a conflict of interest, since he hadn’t worked on this specific development file. But, according to WeirFoulds, he was head of the firm’s municipal law section at the time.
Even if Rust-D’Eye wasn’t technically in conflict, he should have known this connection might raise a troubling suspicion of potential bias — one that would likely undermine community trust in his findings. And that’s precisely what has happened.
Adding financial insult to the mix, the cost of his report was initially pegged at between $50,000 and $60,000. Rust-D’Eye said he worked as efficiently as he could and gave the public a break by charging less than his usual rate. Despite that, his analysis arrived with a bill to taxpayers of more than a quarter of a million dollars.
It’s a disappointing outcome on every level. But, to their credit, Brampton’s leaders aren’t abandoning their search for answers and have turned to Ontario’s ombudsman.
Mr. Marin, it’s your turn to shine the spotlight.
The Midhurst Secondary Plan has been estimated to be worth 80 times as much as the Brampton development.