What’s up at Church Street Hospital?

Way back in 2018, I was asked what was up at the Church Street site of the  Humber River Hospital (and I never did find out). An answer has come to light thanks to some readers and Frances Nunziata’s circular: It’s a “Reactivation Care Centre”—an off-ramp for acute-care hospital patients, who “no longer need acute care services, but often find themselves waiting for an alternate care facility, such as convalescent and long-term care.”

Photo from Sunnybrook

Our RCC is the second in the province, preceded by the Finch Avenue site that was also part of the Humber River Regional Hospital group.

According to Nunziata’s circular, things are still getting started at our location, and at present, there are 94 beds. An additional 120 will be opened in March.

The Church Street site will alleviate pressure at local acute-care hospitals that are part of the Central Local Health Integration Network. Sunnybrook, for example,  typically has “an occupancy rate of over 100 per cent”; sending patients to the Church RCC will free up beds needed urgently, and give patients specialized restorative care.

So it’s a win-win.

It’s also great news for Weston.

When the Church Street site was closed, many residents were concerned that it would be sold to developers, and that a high-density development would be built in a low-density neighbourhood. There were also concerns we would be missing the chance to develop a public good, like a college, seniors’ home, childcare, or park.

Plans to sell the property were thwarted, at least at first, by an odd legal artifact: 70 years ago, the Trimbee family sold the land to the Town of Weston with the condition that it would be used only for a hospital. The city sought to vacate that condition.

Election Reform In Toronto

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For a while, there has been a movement to question the way politics is done in Canada – from the federal government to city councils. A major concern is that money from corporations, unions and the rich can move politicians to vote against the interest of ordinary people. It can be expensive to run an election campaign and commonly, federal and provincial parties have charged $5,000 or $10,000, for admission to an intimate soiree with a cabinet minister. It’s hard to justify such access for the rich, even if politicians claim it makes no difference. It looks as if the Wynne Liberals are seeing the light and may ban the practice.

At the Toronto City Council level, lobbying is another contentious matter. Currently all lobbyists must be registered and a list is kept of meetings between lobbyists and councillors. Some lobbyists have now taken to hiring other companies to lobby on their behalf to conceal their activities. It’s a constant cat and mouse game that council needs to address soon.

Donations to candidates’ election campaigns

Cash donations are allowed only from individuals, (and the candidate and their spouse) and may not exceed $750 per person. If a person wishes to donate to several candidates, for the same council, the total they can donate is $5000. The spending limit for a campaign on things like signs, office supplies and paid staff is calculated by the number of eligible voters. In York South-Weston’s ward 11, this was about $36,000 for the 2014 election. Surprisingly, contributions are not limited to Toronto but may come from anywhere in the province.

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Questions about donors and donations:

Why do people donate to candidates?

Probably because they feel that they will be heard. They may like the voting record of that councillor. Politicians are quick to say that their votes are not influenced by individual donations but then one must ask why don’t more ordinary citizens contribute?

What is a typical donation to a Toronto Council candidate?

It’s quite high. Few donations to Toronto councillors seem to be under the $50 threshold which most people would be comfortable with. The only contribution below $200 in Ms. Nunziata’s campaign was one of $20 and that was from the Councillor herself.

Does a contribution affect the voting record of a politician?

All politicians will tell you that lobbying efforts and campaign donations make no difference. If that were true, lobbying and donations would dry up. Lobbying and donations are legal and effective ways to ‘bend the ear’ and possibly the vote of a politician.

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Do contributors get a rebate?

The city will refund 75% of contributions up to $300 and 50% above that. A donor’s payment of $750 would cost him or her only $300 as the city would rebate $450. This means that donors from inside and outside the city have their payments subsidized by Toronto taxpayers.

What happens to money not spent in a campaign?

Unspent campaign money and money over the campaign limit must be donated to the City to assist with the cost of donor rebates (see below). Signs and office supplies may be retained for the next election but their value will be counted towards the next campaign’s expenses.

Can we find out the names of campaign donors?

The process of donations is on the public record and all candidates’ campaign donations and the names of donors are available online. In the case of Ward 11, which has 34,128 eligible voters,136 individuals, most of whom live outside the ward, donated a total of $47,320.

A breakdown of the donations to Councillor Nunziata’s campaign:

  • Only 136 people donated to Ms. Nunziata’s campaign.
  • No person gave less than $200.
  • 45% of donor money comes from outside the City of Toronto.
  • Less than half of the donors were eligible to vote in Ward 11.

Some notable and large contributors of interest (I have attempted to find the commercial or political connections of the donors) include:

  • Rueben Devlin $200 – President & CEO Humber River Hospital
  • Robert Deluce $300 – President of Porter Airlines
  • Karla Ford $750 – Doug Ford’s Wife
  • Alex , Bela and Jack Matrosov $2000 – Checker Taxi
  • Frances Nunziata $20
  • Matthew Pantalone $750 – Developer
  • David Paiva $750 – Luso Canadian Masonry Ltd.
  • Cormac O’Muiri $500 – from Mississauga
  • Dero Sabatini $400 Mississauga – TD Bank VP (Etobicoke)
  • Marvin Sadowski $500 – Former Developer?
  • Stacey Scher $600  – All Canadian Self Storage
  • Bruno Schickedanz $750 – Developer and Woodbine horse owner
  • Conrad Schickedanz $250 – Developer
  • Tony Scianitti $750 – Developer
  • Darryl Simsovic $400 CEO – Trillium College (Private career college)
  • George Seretis $400 – Easy Plastic Containers Vaughan
  • John Ruddy $750 – Ottawa Developer
  • Alan Tonks $200 – Former YSW MP
  • Chris Tonks $300 – TDSB Trustee
  • Alan Tregebov $200 – Architect
  • Steven Upton $600 – Tridel
  • Susan Vavaroutsos $750 – Old Mill Cadillac (Lou)
  • John Ward $500 – Wards Funeral Home
  • Jack Winberg $200 – Weston Hub Developer
  • Hua Yang $500

It should be pointed out that every one of these donations is perfectly legal. What is up for discussion is whether extra influence is obtained by the few people who make donations and whether people from outside the city should be allowed to contribute or even receive a rebate.

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When a tiny number of individuals provide the campaign money, do they have an undue influence? Should council candidates not seek donation money from the tens of thousands of ordinary people in their wards? Are companies able to exert undue influence when CEO’s donate privately? Should the donation limit be lowered so that councillors are forced to seek more individual donations? Should donations from outside the ward or the city be either banned or ineligible for a rebate?

Bottom Line

Very few ordinary voters can afford $750 for a campaign contribution. For business owners, such a donation may be seen as a good investment regardless of the lack of a guarantee. Since there are so few contributors to most councillors’ campaigns, the $750 donors certainly stand out.

It would probably be a good idea to keep donations to a maximum of $50.00 to force a candidate to gather a large base of support.

Another bone of contention for some is the donations to councillors from non residents.

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For a more in-depth look at lobbying at City Hall read this excellent article written last year by Dave Meslin. He is a big proponent of ranked balloting, another movement designed to improve the way elections are run. The Province of Ontario is allowing municipalities to use ranked balloting in their elections from 2018. Unfortunately Council in its wisdom voted to support ranked balloting and then shortly afterwards voted against it.

What do you think? Should the candidate donation limit be lowered from $750?
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Humber River Regional Hospital – the drama continues

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The new Humber River Regional Hospital.

When the Church Street campus of the Humber River Regional Hospital closed, the community had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the Hospital had since 2007, transformed itself from the second most dangerous hospital in the country into one that was within acceptable limits. On the other, although the neighbourhood facility was a community asset, a brand new facility promised to improve patient care using state of the art equipment and communications.

Now, there are ominous rumblings that the new incarnation may be a cause for concern. The Teamsters Union, which represents cleaning staff at HRRH, has issued a list of safety issues that include:

  • Traces of blood, urine and other bodily fluids can be found throughout the hospital, usually on the floor.
  • Rodents have been observed in the hospital.
  • Feces, urine and other bodily fluids can’t be cleaned properly because the (hospital issued) micro-fibre mops aren’t made to wash certain surfaces.

Right from a sci-fi novel, another of the complaints refers to robots having first dibs on the elevators. The full list is here.

The union is engaged in a bit of a death struggle with the hospital which has begun contracting out cleaning to a company that pays about half of what hospital cleaners make. Let’s hope the obsession with cost cutting won’t lead to safety or quality of care issues for patients and staff.

Read more in this Toronto Star article.

Sullivan: Weston’s hospital site.

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that have been published over the last few days.

Already published:

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

3. Metrolinx

The fourth and final issue that we discussed was Weston’s recently closed hospital.

4. The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.

The Humber River Hospital’s three campus locations have closed to be replaced by a brand new hospital at Wilson and Keele. In preparation for the closing of our local Church Street site, the Hospital Board went ahead with plans to sell the site to the highest bidder. Some people then pointed out that a significant chunk of the original site was a bequest with the proviso that the land would be used for a Weston hospital in perpetuity. The matter is now before the courts.

The Church Street Site last August before it closed.
The Church Street Campus last August before it closed.

Sullivan sees a solution in the way other parts of the province have handled their hospital closings,

What should happen is the Province pays the appropriate price for the property and turns it into a long term care facility which they have already done in Parry Sound and Ottawa and other places where hospitals that have been decommissioned have become long term care facilities. According to (York South-Weston MPP) Ms. Albanese, it’s not as simple as one arm of the province buying the hospital from another. She said that the hospital is entirely run by a private corporation that has nothing to do with the province and that corporation can do whatever it wants with the land. Martin Proctor challenged her strongly on this at a meeting and pointed out that it was the folks in Weston that contributed and added on to that hospital over many years and now they are losing that resource. What appears to have happened is that the Province has separated itself from hospitals by declaring them corporations run by an independent board who the Province then paid 2 billion dollars to build a new one on the understanding that the board would raise 200 million of its own by selling the land and other fundraising.

 

The province can correct its mistake by saying that the land which is worth about 20 million can be forgiven to the Hospital Board of Directors and the province take over the property but Ms. Albanese wasn’t going there.

 

They’ve got to build long term care facilities anyway – somebody has to. There’s a 1 year wait list for long-term care facilities and people will die on that list. Why are we ignoring a  great potential? I understand that the Province wants privately run long-term care facilities but surely if the land is available they can find a developer who is willing to do that.

 

I spoke to Rueben Devlin (HRRH CEO) about that possibility and he told me it could never be a long-term care facility because the rules are so strict it wouldn’t meet the current standards. But then how did they do it in Parry Sound and Ottawa? The province has grandparented other buildings why wouldn’t they do that in Weston rather than tearing it down and building a condo tower. SuOn College is very interested in the site. They’re bursting at the seams and are looking to expand.

There would be no rezoning needed as it is zoned institutional. The fly in the ointment is that the city owns part of the site and the hospital was very quick to go to court over that and are suing the city to try and keep title of the land with the Hospital. Frances had a plan for some kind of trade that would allow the city to keep some parkland somewhere in exchange for the land. Her wonderful deal with Cruickshank Section 37 money didn’t buy a community amenity – it bought drainage in Swanek park which the City was going to pay for anyway.

I contacted York South-Weston MPP Laura Albanese and she confirmed that currently the site is zoned institutional. She also confirmed that hospitals are not fully funded by the province but communities are expected to have an investment in their hospital by raising 10% of the funding. The sale of the Church Street Site would go towards that community contribution. Under the current setup, long term care facilities are managed by not-for-profit corporations, indirectly connected with the Ontario Government. In order to use that as a solution, there has to be an expression of interest from such an entity and to date there has been none. She also mentioned that until the ownership of the deeded land on the HRRH site is settled, nothing is likely to proceed.

She did say that the Keele Street Hospital Campus has been sold to developer Daniels Corporation and the plan is to build some institutional facilities along with low-rise housing.

Having a similar outcome for Weston probably wouldn’t be too terrible, but who knows – with the way things are done in this city, the vision, accompanied by beautiful architectural drawings and the reality are often two entirely different things. Can you say Weston Cultural Hub?

Thanks to Mike Sullivan for agreeing to do this and to MPP Laura Albanese for her response.

The secret future of the hospital site

The Toronto Star has a detailed article on the legal conflict over the Church Street hospital site.

Frances Nunziata, despite her support of other high-rise developments in Weston, seems to have sensed changing public opinion.

Some residents are concerned that the hospital will sell “to the highest bidder” [Nunziata says] who will build townhouses or condo towers — increasing density and traffic in the area.

“The community wants a long-term care (facility), seniors’ residence, a child-care facility, they don’t want the hospital to sell it to a developer to build residential,” she said.

The deed “really was sort of a trump card for us, for the city and the community, because we want institutional uses on the land. It’s really the use of the land the community wants to leverage.”

The secret legal settlement offer will be considered—also in secret—at the next City Council meeting, on November 3. The settlement will only be made public if it is approved by council and only with the permission of the City Solicitor.

InsideToronto on Humber Hospital sale

Weston residents are upset about the potential sale of the Humber River Regional Hospital, says InsideToronto, in a long piece.

According to Dominik Kurek, the city will fight to own the land covered by an old deed, which could thwart an easy sale of the site. The hospital is suing the city for the right to sell

The councillor hosted the meeting to update the community on the court process, saying the city intends to stake its claim to the 1.25-acre portion of the hospital’s 11 acres of land located on Church Street. The Town of Weston had sold the 1.25-acre parcel to the hospital in 1948.

Laura Albanese, however, was “grilled” by the audience for the province’s part.

Laura Albanese, fourth from right, cutting the ribbon on the new site

Selling off taxpayer assets.

This week (Monday) we will have a meeting concerning the land, some of which was donated to the town of Weston for what became Humber River Regional Hospital back in the 1940s. We will also have a residents’ meeting (Wednesday) to hear citizen input regarding the Weston Hub on John Street. In both of these cases, taxpayer funded entities sold or are looking to sell valuable public land to developers. The Toronto Parking Authority sold off the old GO Station parking lot with little fanfare and now HRRH effectively wants to sell its entire site to developer/s.

On the one hand, we have been told by Councillor Nunziata and others, it’s essential for a tower to be built as part of the Weston Hub on the GO site but according to Inside Toronto, she is quoted as being opposed to one on the hospital site,

“The people from the community are very concerned because it is an 11-acre site, it is zoned institutional and they were concerned the hospital was going to try and sell it to the highest bidder and build towers, residential, which they didn’t want.”

I would guess that those same citizens of Weston aren’t cheering about a 31– 30 storey* rental tower on the old GO parking lot but it looks like they’re getting one. Why is the HRRH site any less vulnerable? Answer: it’s probably not.

As the old saying goes, there is only one taxpayer. Why are (often hard fought) public assets compromised by the need for taxpayer funded agencies to raise cash? Surely our cities deserve better and more deliberate planning than this?

One more thing… Farmers Market traders have been concerned for a while that because their new site is so much smaller, they won’t have room for their vehicles. Superimposing the approximate new space allocation (black line) over a satellite view of the Market in full swing is quite telling and may explain traders’ anxiety. This much smaller space may work well with stalls selling selling pickled artisanal mushrooms and the like but it probably won’t be the same for many of our current traders who need their current freedom to spread out.

Farmers Marketl space allocation after the Hub is built.
Farmers Marketl space allocation (black line) after the Hub is built.

Parking may be an issue too as that will be in the lower part of the green space at the bottom of the image.

*Update: Etobicoke York Council minutes have changed (from the original agenda) to now state that the Hub rental apartment will be 30 storeys. Hopefully it was just a typo on the part of clerical staff.