Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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FRIDAY, AUG. 29, 2014

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The misleading Mr. Swan

TODAY’S REPORT #1,026: The candidate for mayor continues to distort the facts in his battle to block Fanshawe College’s proposal to convert the former Kingsmill’s department store into sophisticated kitchen and classroom space.

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 – London

Once again, Joe Swan hasn’t failed to disappoint.

His call Thursday – issued to news media under the headline “Swan Says Let’s Unite, Not Fight” – is sprinkled with the same kind of misleading statements and outright distortions that have dogged his campaign since day one.

What Mr. Swan now wants is for Fanshawe College “to withdraw, temporarily, the college’s request for an extra $9 million from the city until other downtown properties are fairly considered.”

(Later Thursday, after meeting with Mr. Swan, Fanshawe said it would continue to make the request which city council will decide next Tuesday, Sept. 2).

Mr. Swan wants this, he says, because the Fanshawe plan to buy the former Kingsmill’s department store site on Dundas Street was “single-sourced” rather than giving “all property owners the opportunity to participate.” He appears to be charging Fanshawe looked at this property, and only this property, before making an offer to buy it at what Mr. Swan charges is an inflated price.

That deliberately distorts the facts.

As Mr. Swan surely knows, given his new best friend Shmuel Farhi was involved, Fanshawe made an earlier offer on the Market Tower building – which Mr. Farhi’s company owns – but withdrew it after investigation. Fanshawe also looked at about 20 other properties, according to its president, Peter Devlin, before deciding Kingmill’s was the best choice.

But wait, there’s more, much more.

Mr. Swan, in his statement, claimed “even consultants hired by Fanshawe indicated the costs were exorbitant and the property was not suitable for an educational purpose.”

That deliberately distorts the facts.

Darn right Fanshawe had consultants looking over the property. They were thorough. And they did conclude the building, as is, was too small and not suitable for the kind of sophisticated kitchens and classrooms Fanshawe would require. But the site itself was perfect. So the college proposes to rebuild the structure, reinforce the foundations and add three more storeys on top.

Mr. Swan knows that. The information was contained in a report which he obviously has read. He knows, too, because Mr. Devlin told a council committee meeting Tuesday, that major renovations would be required whatever downtown building Fanshawe purchased.

Mr. Swan, in his statement, said that for projects in which he is involved the “single source” method is never used. He favours a request for proposals process “that demonstrates transparency, accountability and fairness.”

That statement is misleading.

Mr. Swan is chairperson of council’s investment and economic prosperity committee. In his day job he is also executive director of Orchestra London and is the driving force behind a proposed performing arts centre. While he always declares a conflict of interest, his committee is currently vetting a performing arts proposal from Music London, the orchestra’s alter ego.

The Music London proposal includes the performing arts centre, two condo towers and a parking garage, all for a total cost of $160 million. The city is expected to contribute $16.5 million to the cost of building the centre, and the provincial and federal governments $15 million each. As well the city is expected to pay upwards of $1 million a year to subsidize operations.

Other partners in the project are York Develoments, London Life, Ellis Don Construction and Global Spectrum. There was no request for proposal to pick the partners, no tender, no invitation to others.

Mr. Swan, in his statement, says he is concerned “with the legal ability” of pledge from Downtown London, the marketing arm of the Downtown Business Improvement District, to contribute $1 million over 10 years to the Fanshawe project.

That statement is misleading.

Mr. Swan would know, because he was instrumental in its creation, that Downtown London is in the business of making grants and loans for downtown redevelopment. True, the business improvement district can’t do that directly, but more than a decade ago Mr. Swan helped create an organization once called MainStreet – now Downtown London – to get around that prohibition.

And finally, Mr. Swan claims the council committee he heads is moving forward on an “estimated $750 million worth of public-private business opportunities.”

That statement is political bull shooting.

Council has so far committed to three projects – $120 million for an industrial land strategy, provided the provincial and federal governments contribute $40 million each (and so far they haven’t agreed); $160 million over 10 years to commercialize medical research in partnership with Western University and the teaching hospitals, of which the city’s share is $10 million and the provincial and federal government share about $100 million (and so far they haven’t agreed); and $100,000 to fund an employment assistance program for newcomers. A project to revitalize the London Hydro lands is under consideration, but far from an agreement. The performing arts centre proposal currently being discussed will not be approved by this council, and quite probably not by the next one either.

Mr. Swan knows all this. But in launching his campaign to become mayor of London he seems hell bent on Revisionism, which is a polite term for playing fast and loose with the truth.

That’s a rather disappointing – some might say disturbing – characteristic in a candidate for mayor.