Developers in the Wings

Apparently there is a line-up of developers waiting to get their hands on the McCormick building, three different developers to be precise.  Yet, when the building went to auction starting at the low price of $744,250, which is what is owed in back taxes on the site, there were zero bidders.  So, what happened to the line-up?

A clue to this seeming dilemma can be found buried in the pile of submissions for building the prosperity of London.  There you will find this letter from Kilmer Brownfield Management Limited.  In the letter Pamela Kraft of Kilmer expresses their interest in the ‘hydro lands’ located at 111 Horton St.  As you may recall, this area was prominently featured for redevelopment in the vision plan for downtown London.  Ms. Kraft highlights Kilmer’s experience in brownfield redevelopment and ensures the City that a mutually agreeable financial arrangement would be the first step of the process.  What does this mean?  It means that Kilmer would like to be in the front of the line if a money-making agreement on this 14-acre property is in the future.

Which brings us back to the McCormick site, and the fact that I do believe Councilor Orser that at least three developers have expressed interest in the site.  However, the interest is not to buy it at cost, the interest is to be at the front of the line if a give-away is to occur.  Is this a bad thing?  Of course not.  Heck, add me to the line-up if the property is being given away.  What really needs to be asked is whether the City is doing due diligence to protect our public finances, which in this case of a property the City doesn’t own means at least getting the back-taxes out of it.

He’s Right

Councilor Van Meerbergen stated:

“It is not the case that [the] electorate is guided or motivated by the levels of communications pumped out by councillors on City Hall expense accounts. Citizens involve themselves in politics and policy-making when they have material interests at stake, primarily threats to the peaceable use of their property, the proper provision of basic city services or the threat of rising property taxation. Threats to these material interests motivate action. A lesson you and your colleagues ought to remember.”

At first blush, this seems like a depressingly cynical statement, that it is solely financial interests that motivate citizens to concern themselves with municipal politics.  However, in a lot of ways, the Councilor is correct.  There are plenty of public engagement exercises by Council, some legislated, some as additional activities; those that are best attended are those with financial implications.  Or, look south of the border, the presidential debates are a battle over who will do the best for the economy.  For swing-wards, the 2010 election in London  was largely defined by whether one was supportive of the 0% tax increase or not.  The further the electorate is from the machinations of City Council the more likely they are to see Council as simply picking their pocket, and people tend to be least engaged at the municipal level.

Looking towards the 2014 election, it will become clear that maintaining 0% without cutting ‘core’ services is impossible.  Council will either bail out from 0%, or cut services deeply (while also tapping into reserves and increasing debt).  Politically, what councilors choose to do will be a gamble on what the electorate care most about: saving money, or strong public services.  In west London, Van Meerbergen is already putting all his chips on the first option, and I’m sure he’s not wrong.

Which brings us full circle to where Van Meerbergen’s comment first came from, which was a response to a survey by citizens to explore how councilors do citizen engagement (results posted tomorrow).  As Brian Gibson demonstrates, there is an increasing interest from the electorate at the municipal level.  If this grows, it will change both the way politics is done in London, and in the long-term the face of the City itself.  If it comes to nothing, the pocket-book voter will continue as the majority, and a lesson will be learned.

A cut on the backs of the poor…

…and no one even noticed.

The provincial Liberal government is currently in deficit-slaying mode, which as I have written about elsewhere, is a good idea.  However, as the Drummond Report highlighted, we need to be careful about eliminating deficits to ensure that this is actually done in such a manner as to decrease inequality rather than increasing it.

The initial proposal to freeze social assistance rates was a bad sign.  Fortunately the NDP were able to negotiate a 1% increase, but the message was clear, the poor were going to feel the cuts along with those employed in the public sector.

Sure enough another cut has come, and it has happened so quietly that most haven’t noticed.  The cut comes through a process of reorganizing services for people experiencing homelessness.  Five programs (Consolidated Homelessness Prevention Program, Emergency Energy Fund, Emergency Hostel Services, Domiciliary Hostel Program, and the Provincial Rent Bank) have been rolled together into the new Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative or CHPI (chip-ee).  As well, and most importantly, the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (or CSUMB) has been eliminated, and 50% of the cost of this program ($62.6m) will be added to CHPI.

What does all that mean?  It means that across Ontario municipalities will have $62,000,000 less in order to address homelessness.  Secondly, the elimination of CSUMB, used most often to pay last month’s rent in order to re-house people, means more people will be stuck in shelter solely for financial reasons.

If this is a concern to you, I encourage you to write to your local MPP and let them know that although eliminating the deficit is a good idea, it should not happen on the backs of the poor.  Check out this briefing note for more info.