Corriere Canadese

TORONTO - No one will ever accuse Italians of lacking in rhetoric or for having a flair for high drama and brinkmanship. On the eve of the arrival of of the Canadian delegation in Matera for the first leg of the “official signing ceremony” twinning the City of Toronto and the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019, the Matera Executive Council (la Giunta) was subject to “resignations and reconstitution” – thus putting at risk months of hard work by teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
Happily, literally twenty minutes before the scheduled ceremony in Matera’s Council Chambers, a “reconstituted” Giunta, with re-confirmed delegates dedicated to the project, emerged from a closed-door meeting while unsuspecting Canadians waited anxiously for Mayor Raffaele De Ruggieri to emerge.
 The “point man”, Michele Grieco, a former Executive Councillor and now the Lead for the Project, was confirmed as the Mayor’s “plenipotentiary delegate” for the Twinning Project. It was he who, uncharacteristically, kicked off the ceremonies.
Good choice. From there, all intervenors focused on restating themes, principles and objectives.
Mayor De Ruggieri wanted to restate that Materani were committed to making this Twinning become more than a simple public relations exercise and that the project should be founded on concrete economic objectives. For him and his “new team”, Matera is a test centre, an incubator for the economy of tomorrow.
As proof, for him, Matera had just hosted part of the G-7 Meeting reserved for planning by, and   dedicated to, Ministers of Trade, Economic Development and Finance. He listed personalities of substance in Economic Affairs, the Arts and Politics who have in recent months visited and been impressed by the activity and the potential of his city. “Matera is rebranding Italy”, he said. It is a place where entrepreneurs can expect a good return on investment.
Matera is one of 5 Italian test centres for 5G fibre capacity. By next year 70% of its territory will be at 5G capacity, giving it a great competitive advantage when the European markets open up for this next generation communications system in 2020.
“Our model for growth is based on giving value to achievements of the past by restoring our artistic and artisanal capacities, growing our Tourism potential our Cultural Industries and stimulating investments in the economy of tomorrow”, he pronounced. The executive of the federation of businesses, Senator Bubbico, the mayors of adjacents towns that will host the Canadian Delegation over the course of the week – Ferrandina, Montescaglioso, Palazzo San Gervasio, Monticchio Volture and Pescopagno – were also present to bear testimony to what is a collaborate effort by the entire Region of Basilicata.
The Canadian, Toronto, delegation would not be outdone in its commitment. Deputy Mayor, Vincent Crisanti, accompanied by the Director for Economic Development, George Spezza, pointed out the advantages to a partnership with Toronto. It is a living dynamic in cultural and economic terms: 4th largest city in North America; 140 000 businesses spanning the full spectrum of economic activity; 190 language groups call it home; an “efficient” business sensitive government; a cultural industry whose value increased by 50% last year to exceed $2 billion in activity and an economic engine generating 20% of Canada’s economy. An Ideal partner for Matera.
Two MPs, Judy Sgro and Francesco Sorbara drove home the point, from a Canadian perspective. Italy and Canada exemplify one of the world’s most successful bilateral relationships with over $10 billion in two way trade annually, and prepared to do much more, according to MP Sorbara whose background is Finance and Investment Capital.
The Hon. Judy Sgro highlighted the historical value of the Human Resources component of that relationship: over 1.5 million Canadians of Italian origin whose successes in Canada are an indicator of the welcoming nature of our environment and the ability to obtain a return on investment economically and socially.
Both MPs dutifully acknowledged that the pantheon of celebrities invited to the ceremonies who made possibile the twinning: Maro Soluzzi, Raffaella Piarulli, Mario Romanelli from the Italian side and, from Canada, Pat Tremamunno, Paolo Petrozza, Dan Montesano, Frank Miele, Sam Primucci, Antonio Locantore, Corrado Paina and Filippo Gravina.
The Delegation then moved on immediately to a series of visitations to enterprises in the cultural, manufacturing and hi-Tech sectors already interested in establishing mutually beneficial rapports with Canadian counterparts. 
George Spezza and Michele Grieco, the bureaucratic, operating component of the project,  are going to be busy if the experiment is to succeed.
 
Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher
 
Money and the allure of acquiring more of it sometimes distorts vision and focus. It tests friendships, nurtures divisions, feeds the fires of unbridled self-interest and promotes language and vocabulary that blurs the line between “spin” and “fact”.
 
The proposed project envisioned by a private, for-profit developer that goes by the name of Villa Charities Inc (VCI) has an estimated retail market value of 1.2 to 1.5 billion dollars measured in today’s residential real estate market. 
 
It’s unclear how the development of the properties held in trust for the community by a charitable not for profit organization could accomplish this without demolishing a building on Dufferin Street owned by the Daughters of St Paul or tearing down the church, St Charles Borromeo, or the Columbus Centre.
 
The ever-inventive Board of the community-minded Villa Charities were gifted with a potential partner (the Toronto Catholic District School Board) that would afford them public acquiescence, if not support, once both the Daughters of St. and the Cardinal proffered a “no thank you”.
 
The new partnership touted a shared-use facility to replace Dante Alighieri Academy and Columbus Centre, two icons now described variously as “unsuitable”, “dilapidated”, “old, worn down” and downright “decrepit”.
 
The first was built in 1975 and expanded twice since then. The latter, a structure that assumed its current shape only in 1980.
 
In 2011, the Ministry of Education “approved $32.8 million for a replacement school for Dante … as well as approval to enter into a shared-space partnership with VC for an educational and cultural arts facility…” The need, so the argument went, was urgent.
 
That was six years ago. TCDSB website and sources both indicate an enrollment decline at Dante of about 33%. A new facility projected by the TCDSB foresees accommodation for only 950 students, as opposed to the 1400 registered when circumstances were urgent.
 
Meanwhile, community and political hesitation as reached a deafening roar. In a letter dated June 16, 2017, the Minister, reminded the TCDSB that it “will require approval from the Ministry in order for the project to proceed to tender.” In the intervening six years since the first indication of the availability of the money on an “urgent” basis, the Board “has yet to seek such approval”, writes the Minister. Why not?
 
For greater clarity, the Minister advises that several concerns brought to her attention need to be addressed “before approval to proceed to tender is submitted”. TCDSB (represented by the soon to retire director, her recently appointed replacement and the Associate Director for the Plant and Business matters at the Board) met with VCI board members on June 20, 2017.
 
According to some present, the meeting prompted some blunt and “vigorous” debate. In the end, the TCDSB, notwithstanding the letter and the political firestorm in which it is embroiling itself, decided to “hunker down” and go along with the VCI appeal to the OMB. Why?
 

TCDSB, Villa Charities: Institutional Arrogance and Life’s ironies

Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher
 
One sometimes wonders about the value attributed to some of these locally-elected Boards, Institutions or “mini governments”. They are supposed to be responsible and accessible to very local or task specific goals – therefore very democratic and transparent.
If the meeting of the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) held June 15 is any indication, it goes a long way to explaining why successive Provincial governments have been openly musing (and threatening) about the desirability for One, single Board of Education. Or, at the very least, combining public and separate schools under one roof.
But first, let me acknowledge that there are many decent, dedicated and upright individuals who consider community service and careers in education as a vocation, not simply as a job. The TCDSB rightly recognized some that night. How it handles urgent and pressing matters that weigh on its mandate is a little less clear.
One delegation came forward with what it claimed was documented evidence of racial discrimination in a specific school, committed by none other than a staff member. A similar situation earlier in the year at the York Region School Board (YRSB) prompted Ministry inspectors, public protests, resignations and lawsuits or threats thereof.
The Chair in this instance advised the delegate not to name individuals or to provide any telling indicators that might reveal identities. The Board proceeded to “receive and refer” [to Staff for further study and subsequent report back]. When? No earlier than next September. Maybe it doesn’t carry the same weight as the incident at the YRSB. 
Another delegation was perplexed at the fashion in which decisions had been reached in respect of a family of schools when Staff reports had never mentioned the option chosen – one seemingly contrived and selected after the Board had voted in favour of another.
The delegation, dismayed and disappointed, wondered, understandably, whether the appropriate recusal had been exercised by the local trustee whose economic interests may have been potentially enhanced by the decision. The Chair cautioned the delegate against identifying the subject of the veiled allegation. The Trustee was in the room.
Again, the matter was voted “received and referred”. The TCDSB seemed unfazed by the fact that last year their co-terminus Board, the TDSB, had experienced internal upheaval and public discredit after similar issues (among others) surface in their regard. The TCDSB will not have been unfamiliar with that scenario given that it had, itself, been placed under Ministry supervision, not that long ago, for practises that included similarly questionable conventions.
But, Life is a Life-long Learning process, so to speak..
A third delegation, appearing in order to advise the Board on the Italian Community’s (and others’) position on the massive Construction Project envisioned for the South-West corner of Dufferin and Lawrence Avenues – because it hinges on a shared-used facility with a TCDSB school – was met with what can best be described as aggressive badgering and hectoring by yet another Trustee.
The lead-off speaker, a retired University professor and one of the original founders of the Villa Charities, a community organization now turned Developer, remained – to his credit – cool, calm and collected. He had come to offer his perspective for the Board’s consideration, as is his right and duty as a citizen, even if the Trustee had difficulty grasping the concept.
The Professor’s two colleagues - a lawyer and a former MPP – followed with valiant presentations imploring the TCDSB to re-assess the project on technical matters and on its socio-cultural impacts. In vain, on the face of it, even as the local trustee, Maria Rizzo, tried to salvage a smattering of respect for well-intentioned citizen delegations.
The Board voted to “receive and refer”. Their mind was made up, so to speak.
Ironically, the very next day, as reported by the Corriere Canadese, the Minister of Education sent the Chair of the Board a letter outlining the government’s position. In brief, its contents signalled the withdrawal of the Ontario government’s permission to proceed with the joint-use facility. Moreover, it reminded the TCDSB that it cannot proceed with capital projects without the expressed written consent of the Minister.
And, that is not coming anytime soon … so to speak.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), without apparent reason, is rushing headlong towards an irreparable rupture with Toronto’s Italian Community. Who can predict the consequences?
Briefly, the TCDSB has embarked on a controversial project, conceived and fashioned behind closed doors by the Directors and Management of Villa Charities Inc (the umbrella organization which claims title to the Columbus Centre), keeping for years the affected community in the dark.
The Catholic School Board operates two schools on Playfair Ave: Regina Mundi and Dante Alighieri Academy. In 2011, they TCDSB secured an allocation of $32.8 million from the Provincial government to build a replacement school for Dante Alighieri Academy (built in 1976). It did so on an “urgent” need basis since [the Board] had described [the Academy] as “dilapidated”, and no longer viable.
Currently, the TCDSB owns 13 acres of land on the site that houses Regina Mundi (built in 1974) now judged ready for demolition because it too has been described as “decrepit”. Logic suggests that the new Dante Alighieri be reconstructed on the Regina Mundi site. 
For some obscure, undeclared reason, the TCDSB entered into and agreement with Villa Charities Inc that goes something like this: the TCDSB buys a parcel of the land occupied by Columbus Centre and builds the new Dante Academy within which space a portion will be leased to the new Columbus Centre, now reduced to 45% of its current space.
As part of its development plan for the area, in January of 2017, Villa Charities Inc presented Toronto City Council with a request for amendments to the Official Plan so as to permit the construction of a school in an area currently zoned residential single family. The eastern parcel of the site, for which intentions are veiled from public scrutiny, is zoned to permit high rise condos.
When referred to North York Community Council for examination and decision on May 7, the NYCC decided to engage in public consultations as is demanded by the democratic and planning process.
The meeting took place at Yorkdale Secondary School, where an unanticipated 500 people assembled, the overwhelming majority of whom expressed opposition (with anger and rancor) to the project which had as a pre-condition the demolition of the Columbus Centre, an icon of the Italian Canadian Community to which the Corriere Canadese has provided significant coverage.
Almost immediately after the meeting, taking stock of the potential public scrutiny and likelihood of an impasse, Villa Charities Inc opted to appeal directly to the Ontario Municipal Board. Just to be clear, the OMB is an administrative, unelected tribunal with such an egregiously notorious reputation for indiscriminately siding with builders that the Provincial government passed legislation designed to defang it.
When the news of this manoeuvre, at first guarded jealously, became public, the Community’s ire erupted. Several delegations presented themselves to the TCDSB in order to request that it take a step back and answer several questions which remain unanswered.
1. Why did the TCDSB not utilize for 6 years the $32.8 million that the government had allocated for improvements to or reconstruction of Dante Alighieri?
2. Why did the TCDSB assent to the move by Villa Charities Inc to circumvent the Planning process and proceed directly to the OMB? 
3. For what undeclared reasons is the TCDSB not rebuilding on the site of Regina Mundi which it will demolish?
4. Why is it contributing to the demolition of the Columbus Centre, built by the Italian Community one of the pillars of the Catholic School System?
5. Why is it ready to make itself an accomplice to a project that many find reprehensible and with overall murky objectives?
The TCDSB boasts a mission statement aiming to create “an inclusive community of instruction and learning that unites home, church and school and is rooted in the love of Christ”. With this project, Catholic School System like any other Developer, is creating division rancor and anger, coupled with a profound cynicism among Catholic ratepayers and the Italian Community by being complicit with Villa Charities in its appeal to the OMB.
The TCDSB is duty-bound to relay to Villa Charities Inc that the shared-use facility with Dante Alighieri cannot go forward and that the application leading to the OMB should be withdrawn.
Will it have the good sense to heed the Community’s wishes?
 
TORONTO - “The project is botched up; the Communications Plan is botched up”, so said Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee, Maria Rizzo. She was referring to the Proposed joint-se facility envisioned by her Board and Villa Charities Inc. 
That was arguably the most positive statement on behalf of the proposal uttered during the North York Community Council meeting June 13 - by anyone.
Consider that the first two intervenors, the Planner and the lawyer for the Developer, came across as cavalier and embarrassingly unprepared and to respond to basic questions. First, who owns the property? Second, why does Columbus Centre have to be demolished? Third, what would be the costs to refurnish the Centre? Fourth, why did they “circumvent the process” by going directly to the OMB with their plan the moment the Community started to ask questions”.
MPP Mike Colle was openly incensed by the actions of Villa Charities and the TCDSB. He advised the meeting that he had asked the Minister (of Education) to withdraw the $ 32 million set aside for building a New Dante Alighieri. 
“No one supports this plan”, he said, “this is tearing at the heart of the Italian Community… Villa Charities and the TCDSB have put a gun to the head of the Community by going to the OMB”.
What followed was a litany of testimonials - some emotional, all thoughtful – attesting to the cultural value attributed to and evidenced by the history of the Columbus Centre.
Prof. Elio Costa, a contributing “founder” of Villa Charities, portrayed the proposed demolition as a “betrayal of the Italian Community and of the trust the Community had vested in the Board of Directors to address the issues of the Community”.
Lawrence Pincivero plead the case for designating the Centre as a heritage site, pointing to a long list of celebrities in the Arts and the estimated 700,000 “regular Canadians” who annually make the Centre a destination point.
 Patrick de Marco referred to the plan as a “monstrosity” conceived by “barbarians” who have appropriated a public (community) asset for their own designs. He was also the first to allude to a $100, 000 entrance fee become a member of Villa Charities, and hence to qualify to be on the Board.
Ian Macdonald, an artist and member of Columbus Centre community, rejected the claim by Villa Charities’ lawyer that the site is dilapidated. 
He regretted that the founders of 40 years ago surely could not have anticipated that “their dream would have been destroyed” and, with it, a truly “heritage site”.
Franco Misuraca suppressed his anger to voice disappointment that Canadian-Italian political representatives, with a few notable exceptions, were mute in the face of this [mis]appropriation by a few individuals driven exclusively by a profit motive. He slammed the TCDSB, a Catholic pubic institution, for siding with those private interests.
And so it went. Intervenors emphasized the numerous contributions made in kind, in dollars and donations to the creation of a public, living community asset. An asset the clownish spokesperson for the Developer was now describing as old, decrepit and dilapidated. 
Vincenzo Gentile, who identified himself as one of the structural engineers commissioned in the 1980’s to build the unique structure that is Columbus Centre, objected to the description. He deplored the apparent, insidious “subterfuge and total lack of transparency” with which the development was proceeding, likening it to “omertà”.
A point, this latter one, re-enforced by Dorothy Pullan (?) … an educator/researcher who was astonished that the TCDSB would be allowing outside adults in its schools between the hours of 6am and 6pm. 
She pointed out that a “shared-use facility between these hours runs counter to regulations; and, it would be a “fallacy to proceed” with demolition to facilitate a fallacious plan.
Christine Genowefe, another non-Italian intervenor, found it deplorable that the TCDSB was “piggy-backing” on a demolition proposal that she described as “ripping history out of our experience”.
Councillor Shiner, whose mother had participated in the construction of the Centre asked the obvious question of Trustee Rizzo: “Why not (re)build Dante Alighieri on the site where you already are?” Adding, for good measure that “this doesn’t make sense; it’s a bad plan!”
Other Councillors seemed in agreement. The Chair, Maria Augimeri, ceding her positive to intervene became impassioned – even angry- and forceful in outlining Council’s reservations to the Developer’s spokespersons.
The Columbus Centre “is not yours to sell; it is not yours to tear down …  there are circumstances that are less than honest behind this application”, she said. “Columbus Centre belongs to the public; we funded it”.
Councillor Augimeri held out hope of salvation, as it were, adding that she had “no doubt that the place [would] be declared a Heritage site”.
Councillor Peruzza was perhaps equally strong declaring it “shameful that these trustees (of Villa Charities) operate as a single owner … people who use this as their own development playpen”. Yet, he added, “people (over the years) gave with no strings attached; what fools we are!”
Council voted unanimously to reject the proposal as presented, and for the Staff Report on the matter. 
Toronto City Council will deliberate on it and the Amendments presented by Councillor Colle in its July meeting.
But the OMB, if and when it places the application on its agenda, will consider only the Planning Act implications.