$600,000 consultants fee puts Brampton University project on hold

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Published March 2, 2022 at 3:58 pm

Brampton’s integrity commissioner has been called in to look at possible conflicts of interest after the city paid more than $600,000 to consultants on the now-frozen Brampton University project.

Staff said on Wednesday that the city has dolled out hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to at least two consultants on the project – the Academy for Sustainable Innovation and Stakeholder Research Associates.

Councillor Martin Medeiros said he was experiencing “sticker shock” when learning Stakeholder Research Associates alone received more than $500,000 and called on the integrity commissioner to look into the Academy for Sustainable Innovation’s Dr. David Wheeler, who is a former professor of Brampton Councillor Rowena Santos.

“I just don’t know where all this money went on an exercise that, in my mind, was questionable from day one,” Councillor Martin Medeiros said on Wednesday.

Medeiros put forward motions to halt all work on the project, as well as calling on the city’s integrity commissioner to look at “Councillor Santos and the relationship with Mr. Wheeler.”

He said the Brampton U project was “on the verge of criminality,” prompting Mayor Patrick Brown to call for cooler heads to prevail in council chambers.

Medeiros’ motions passed, stopping work on the project and directing staff to come back with a fulsome report on how much was spent on Brampton U.

Councillor Rowena Santos said she had previously reached out to the city’s integrity commissioner as early as August 2019, and the commissioner found there was no conflict at that time.

Brampton U isn’t the only post-secondary project the city paid for, with city staff saying Brampton’s post-secondary strategy has cost nearly $1,365,000.

Those efforts include establishing a university fund and the city’s proposed medical school and in June, city council unanimously supported a motion to work with the University of Guelph and Humber College to bring a campus to Brampton.

Akin to something out of a spy novel, invoices showing thousands in payments linked to the city’s consultation on the project were left for Councillor Pat Fortini in “his neighbour’s mailbox,” the councillor said.

Coun. Charmaine Williams said she also received a similar package, and Fortini said this isn’t the first time he’s received privileged documents in a dead-drop.

When questioned by other councillors on how he came to have the invoices, Fortini told councill that he is “more concerned about what happened to this money” than where the invoices came from.

Fortini said the invoices show cheques were cut to consultants “every few days” for tens of thousands of dollars each, and called the trend “very disturbing.”

“I want to know what happened to this money – end of story,” Fortini said, alleging that there were taxpayer-funded trips to as far away as “UK and Australia” under the Brampton U project.

Councillor Paul Vicente said he’s confident that when the full extent of the Brampton U project are made public that residents will “provide us some leeway.”

“It is taxpayers dollars, and we have the support of the people of Brampton to seek these goals,” he said.

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