Opinion: Sick of secret deals

On October 5, 2016 Toronto City Council voted ‘Yes’ (21 Yes, 14 No, and 9 Absent) to assign the sole-sourced former Boardwalk Café from the current tenant Tuggs Incorporated (Tuggs) to Cara Operations Limited (Cara), the largest restaurant franchise in Canada. The discussion once again, as in 2010, took place “in camera”, meaning behind closed doors.

To refresh memories, in 2010, the city awarded an untendered lease to Tuggs, giving it exclusive rights to the restaurants, concession stands, and parking lots on the eastern beach properties. Unlike any other parklands in Toronto, however, the city also gave Tuggs the exclusive rights to all sponsored events in Kew Gardens, Woodbine Beach Park, Ashbridges Bay and Beaches Park. This also included the exclusive sale of all food, drink and merchandise along the waterfront and in all four parks.

Carters Landing, a restaurant under the Cara umbrella, opened in the Lakeshore Boulevard building July 1st. Shortly thereafter, Tuggs requested its lease be reassigned to Cara. Since then, Beach residents have sent city councillors and the mayor over 55,000 emails urging them to vote ‘No’ on October 5 and refuse the assignment. Many groups sent testimonials to councillors and Mayor Tory outlining the hardships they had in using the parklands and how the lease had broken the spirit of our community. There have not been farmers’ market or Christmas markets in our parklands, and there are less charitable events and music festivals than there could be. That’s because, according to letters written by a number of groups and gathered by the resident’s group Free The Beaches – of which I am a co-founding member – some venues could not come to terms with the tenant and had to move elsewhere or be abandoned.

It’s the opinion of Free the Beaches that Tuggs did not obtain the required prior written consent for the assignment as required by the lease. It also, according to media reports, did not obtain the required written consent for the current renovations. A sheriff’s search showed that Tuggs was in arrears of taxes of approximately $150,000.00 on account of unpaid employer health taxes. The lease states that the tenant must pay all its taxes to all levels of government.

Our group argued, among other things, that because of these major lease violations, the city had the leverage to ask for concessions – such as a release of the parklands – in return for granting the consent. As far as we can tell, the city asked for nothing in return. Council voted ‘yes’ and gave the consent – presumably under the threat of being sued by Tugg’s Lawyers.

Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon moved a motion to enter into a discussion with the tenant to determine the cost of returning the parklands at a later date. But with the consent now granted, the city has effectively lost its leverage. The tenant will now predictably ask for the moon as its price to surrender the parklands back to the public. To be effective, they had to be done together, as one councillor tried to suggest to councillor McMahon on the council floor.

So why are discussions held “in camera”? This is done when there is the threat of a lawsuit. This way the city can receive legal advice which is generally privileged. That is why to a large extent there is no public transparency and the residents are effectively shut out of the process. But that is not always the case. This time around, city staff apparently advised council to make matters public. We know this because following the in camera session of October 5th, Councillor David Shiner in addressing the floor of city council gave us a rare glimpse behind the “in camera” scenes.

He stated:

“The staff’s recommendation was not to keep things confidential… the public is entitled to know what we do… we shouldn’t be keeping secrets from them… it is their land and their space…”

But council voted 26 to 9 for no public disclosure and to keep the contents of a supplementary report provided to council confidential, a motion put forward by Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor Justin J. Di Ciano.

Councillor Shiner gave us another glimpse from behind the scenes. He stated:

“It’s a bad business deal for the city (the lease assignment). Letting people cash out on city property and just make big capital gains because they just happened to be able to get this deal which is what it looks like … and not give back the public part of the land, not give back the rights of that community to be there.

This is the heart of the problem: turning public assets over to private companies is simply bad public policy. Doing the transactions “in camera” and then voting everything as confidential and sealed from public eyes – even when city staff says make it public – only makes matters worse.


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6 comments

If this is an “opinion” piece, why is the editorless lame duck Beach Metro News posting and promoting it on facebook? Why is Martin Gladstone’s position added to the end of his editorial. It is not a balanced article and should not be promoted as such. We have heard that Tugg’s does not in fact have exclusive licence for all parks in the beaches, but Gladstone and his partner critic Levy continue to quote this as fact. Beach Metro should be careful to distance itself as editorially independent of “Free the Beaches”.

Are you a “Plant”?
When you can’t tell the difference between an Opinion article and a FB Account, best to learn and then open your mouth .

Wake up! You are so misinformed and so far behind, you will never catch up. Do your homework. Your comment is embarrassingly ignorant. In addition, the Beach Metro is one of the best community papers I have ever read, and far from ‘lame duck’. If you don’t like then don’t read it.

The BMN policy is to disallow commenters to call others stupid or ignorant or an idiot. So I will make sure I avoid saying that to you.

“We have heard that Tugg’s does not in fact have exclusive licence for all parks in the beaches…” I don’t know where Jimmy K gets his information or rumour, but Free the Beaches has a copy of the lease. Martin Gladstone is also a lawyer. Even the City Councillors including McMahon have referenced over and over that the lease includes exclusive rights to any activity or event in those parks. Those are the facts.
This yet again secret deal making is not acceptable to many of us who live here. In fact, not acceptable to 55,000 who took the time to email City Council or write personal emails to Councillor McMahon. So many community events have been unable to proceed due to TUGGS unreasonable demands. It never made sense to me (and others) why on earth it was ever part of the deal. Talk about a monopoly!!
McMahon is far out of her element and has demonstrated again a lack of business acumen by promoting that Council accept this illegal transference (lease was broken, clearly, as Martin Gladstone outlines, taxes not paid), BEFORE getting some kind of condition included as part of the motion, ie. that the ‘rights’ to the parklands be returned to the City, ie the public, who OWN these lands. She was advised and encouraged to do this by many of us, myself included. But I didn’t even get a courtesy of a reply to my email.
This has been another frustrating episode in the ongoing concerns we have had in the Beaches for awhile now. We deserve better… and certainly better…

Well…I know MMMcMahon owns this. She ran her campaign on the back of the lease. I was never convinced that she could do much about this lease in the first place. Maybe she came to the realization when she got elected. The real blame goes to Teflon Tom Jabobek and then Bussin-these two created the problem and entrenched it.

When mismanagement, ineptness, and dawdling corruption subside in the Tuggs of War boondoggle, then we may be able to Free the Beach…

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