Where is Mississauga Getting This Money From?

Would you like to see a world renowned performance make its way to Mississauga?

It’s one of those unique things that could really make Mississauga distinct in terms of hosting cultural attractions in the GTA and put the city on the map (as all good Mississauga boosters love to say). Councillor Nando Iannicca probably puts it best, "it puts us (Mississauga) in a whole new world ... this thing's a no-brainer. It just screams success," he gushed with much fanfare at last week's General Committee meeting.
But what if I told you the money to bring a show here seemingly materialized out of thin air from money not actually in the budget yet?

Spearheaded by Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish, all but one member of council voted to agree in principle (just another way of saying they agree to spend) some $375,000 to bring a horse show called Odysseo by Cavalia to 10 acres of land adjacent to the Hershey Centre, with Pacific Paving Ltd. given the contract to redevelop the parcel of land. Based on a video shown before council, it will take 6,000 tonnes of stone, earth and sand and 80,000 gallons of water to transform the land into a staging area appropriate for this show. Even the construction method seems unique in itself. As Councillor Parrish described to me, it would save money by trucking in asphalt from other projects being rebuilt in the area to the Hershey Centre, crushing it and using it as a base for the tent site.

Don't get me wrong, this show looks fantastic and it's very similar to a Cirque du Soleil production in terms of quality and presentation. As spokesperson Dimitri Soudas puts it, Cavalia is the world's largest touring production, combining equestrian and performing arts with some 4 million viewers worldwide. They have brought their performance around the world and it's appeared in Germany, Spain, Australia, New York, Chicago, Beijing and a plethora of other world class cities. So it is no small potatoes for them to come to Mississauga, tentatively scheduled sometime around June to August of 2017.

But I would like to raise some issues surrounding procedure and other issues regarding how city council reached this conclusion to give $375,000 to Cavalia.

Cavalia was not on the agenda

Every General Committee and every council meeting has an agenda in which they list all the items they are to discuss. To randomly insert an agenda item only impedes the schedule, especially if it seems sudden and unexpected. When there are not enough facts on the table and the money hasn't been budgeted yet, it's extra troublesome.

The General Committee Agenda for October 19, 2016 shows there are two items (5.1 and 5.2) related to Mississauga Culture, specifically the Library Board presentation and the Mississauga Arts Council. But then when you go watch the entire meeting, they suddenly had a 5.3 materialize out of nowhere regarding the Cavalia show. Since this item ended up getting some $375,000 that wasn't even in the budget, that poses a concerning precedent for future unannounced spending decisions

Councillor Parrish told me that this happens all the time, but if any councillor feels they can make spending decisions on a whim, it doesn’t seem like responsible budgeting at all.

Dimitri Soudas as spokesperson for pitching this show to council

Honestly, that name wouldn't mean anything to probably 99 per cent of you. If you have heard of the name Dimitri Soudas, you may only recall that he was the Executive Director of Communications of the Canadian Olympic Committee. But Soudas' most well known role was a political one; he was the Director of Communications for former prime minister Stephen Harper and former Director of the Conservative Party of Canada.

So you're not dealing with some lightweight who has no idea how to lobby the political class. Soudas learned at the knee of someone whose government was one of the most tightly scripted and message-controlled administrations in Canadian history. When you listen to Soudas' presentation, you can see how perfectly tailored to council it is—especially to someone like Councillor Iannicca who is a great admirer of what goes on in world class cities. The fact that the show has played in places like Madrid and Chicago most likely sold the idea to Iannicca immediately. And if you missed it, Soudas also mentioned that the original cost of $1.3 million was too much and that he didn't believe that amount "was a good use of taxpayers money," which is like textbook Conservative lingo.

The sole sourced contract to Pacific Paving Ltd.

Sole sourced contracts, also known as no-bid contracts, basically mean that there is only one person or company that can provide the contractual services needed, so any attempt to obtain bids would only result in that person or company bidding on it. It's usually viewed through a controversial lens because people wonder why only one company was allowed to bid on that contract; the most cynical view being that some illegal or immoral means was used to exclude competitors.

As Ward 3 Councillor Chris Fonseca, who was chairing General Committee, read from the motion (that only she had a copy of), Pacific Paving Ltd. would be given the sole sourced contract to design a special events pad complete with water and hydro servicing on the 10 acres adjacent to the Hershey Centre. Pacific did pony up a $30,000 donation, in honour of the 60 years of their company doing business in Mississauga and their founder's 85th birthday.

I don't doubt the sincerity of the company's intentions of giving back after doing decades of business in Mississauga, and I'm not questioning the quality of their work or their integrity. And while I've heard the sole sourcing of contracts with the city is quite common, it seems a tad strange to rush the approval through—especially on money that suddenly was deemed available and details were presented last minute.

Where did this $375,000 come from?

I'm not going to bother reiterating most of what the other councillors said, because they pretty much all said the same thing: this is great, let's do it, this will put us on the map!

I think Councillor Karen Ras from Ward 2 performed a great public service when she asked the only sensible question around the table, "The first time I'm hearing that we had $375,000 was…five minutes ago. Where is this money coming from in the budget?" In response, Paul Mitcham, the city's Commissioner of Community Services, said staff would have to approach corporate finance and get a report drafted (likely in two weeks), but most likely the money will come from the capital budget. In other words, since there's no corporate report (one of Councillor Ras' concerns), "we don't know where this money is coming from, but we'll get back to you on that."

Does this sound like the sound fiscal management? I know that this vote is basically an agreement in principle, but when you listen to the councillors gush how this is basically a done deal…it basically means it's a done deal. But this is concerning if they can't even think ahead of time where they are getting this money from. Even Councillor Parrish couldn't state definitely where the money was going to come from and this was HER IDEA.

The budget process has just began, as Mayor Crombie started telephone town hall meetings on the budget two weeks ago. The budget gets presented sometime in late November and should conclude in mid December when Council approves the budget. It seems a bit sneaky to rush this in at the last minute without the public having a chance to provide some input. Hopefully when mid-December comes, people have enough information to ask some decent questions.

In the end, all present councillors except Councillor Ras voted for the motion to green light this $375,000 and to sole source the contract to design Cavalia's stage to Pacific Paving Ltd.

I think Cavalia is going to be a spectacular show for Mississauga, and it would put Mississauga on the map. I just wish they followed proper procedures in terms of spending our taxpayers money in doing so.

Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic

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