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Doug Ford inserted himself into city’s plans for Etobicoke homeless shelter

July 5, 2018
Jennifer Pagliaro

Now-Premier Doug Ford inserted himself into the city’s plans to place a temporary homeless shelter in Etobicoke, making calls to both the mayor and local councillor, the Star has learned.

Ford, a week after he was declared premier-designate in an election last month and just weeks before he was sworn in, called Mayor John Tory and Councillor John Campbell to express concerns about the city’s plans to place one of four prefabricated structures at a site just north of Eglinton Ave. W. near Royal York Rd.

The city is now no longer pursuing that location.

City staff and Tory’s office say the site was ruled out after staff did further due diligence and discovered there was no convenient sewer hookup, making the site “effectively unusable.”

But the Star has learned that a planned, city-led consultation with local residents about the Eglinton and Royal York site was imminent, with a location for an open house being worked out and flyers being prepared when the calls came from Ford.

“I was willing to help out with the homeless situation if necessary and if needed and I think that the community would have come to understand the importance of doing so,” Campbell told the Star this week. He confirmed Ford called him on June 15 and that the call lasted five minutes.

“He called to get clarity on the situation. He was reflecting concerns that had been relayed to him.”

Ford, he said, was no advocate for the temporary shelter space.

Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat raised the sewer issue when asked about the call from Ford.

“I can confirm the mayor and the premier did discuss this site. The premier was looking for information and the mayor provided it,” he wrote in an email to the Star.

“Premier Doug Ford has held conversations with Mayor John Tory to discuss the ongoing issue of illegal border crossers in the City of Toronto. There will be continued conversations between our officials and other levels of government going forward,” his spokesperson Simon Jefferies said in response to questions from the Star this week.

A followup email noting the site was not intended to shelter refugees and asking specifically what Ford’s concerns were or if he made any demands was not returned.

A column in the Toronto Sun published June 12 -- three days before Ford’s calls -- incorrectly said the city planned to open a “refugee camp” in Campbell’s ward, which may have sparked community concerns. That rhetoric also featured in a recent robocall to local residents from Angelo Carnevale, who is running against Campbell, a first-term councillor, in the upcoming municipal election. Carnevale told the Star he was concerned about what information was being provided to residents and that several people were against having the respite site in their neighbourhood. He said he also spoke to Ford about the concerns.

The site, a city-owned parcel of largely unoccupied land on the northwest corner of the intersection, is about two kilometres from Ford’s home and just over a kilometre from that of his mother, Diane Ford. It’s outside of Ford’s Etobicoke North riding, a seat he easily won as the Ontario PCs swept to power last month.

An unoccupied 1930s-era home, which has heritage designation, is the sole structure on the tree-filled site. The temporary structure was to be placed next to the house, staff say.

The Star was at first told by city spokesperson Patricia Anderson that the lack of sewer made the site “effectively unusable.”

Asked what would be required to connect the structure to city services, spokesperson Wynna Brown told the Star that “no sanitary sewer is available in close proximity of the site.” A sewer at La Rose Ave., which is the next parallel street north of Eglinton Ave., would need to be extended “by approximately 180 metres” to service the site at a “high level estimate” of $500,000, she said.

Staff originally believed, Brown said, that because of the heritage house on the site there was a nearby sewer connection. But the house ran on a septic system, she said. Elevation issues may also make connecting to the sewer at La Rose Ave. not feasible, she added.

“A design study would be recommended to confirm elevations and design parameters,” Brown wrote.

Brown said staff are still considering options for specific locations for the four sites, which are meant to open before this winter. Those addresses, once decided, would be shared publicly, she said.

Michael Ford, a city councillor representing Ward 2 (Etobicoke North) and Doug Ford’s nephew, who was briefed on the planned open house, said he had “a number of conversations with concerned constituents.”

“One of my main concerns throughout this process has been the lack of planned consultation on the part of the city,” he said in an email.

Brown said neither Campbell nor the mayor’s office told the staff working on the respite spaces about the calls from Ford and that communications with the councillor’s office were part of the standard due diligence process.

“With respect to the mayor’s office,” she said. “There were discussions about the winter respite program in general.”