Patrick Brown won’t provide ‘phantom’ report being used to justify reversal of Peel’s break up; Bonnie Crombie wants to see his ‘questionable’ numbers
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is demanding clarity on the legislated break up of Peel Region, which is set to be dissolved by January of 2025, after Patrick Brown once again made unsubstantiated claims about the costs of doing away with the upper-tier municipal government.
“As of late, we’ve been hearing Mayor Patrick Brown spout unfounded and highly questionable claims that dissolution could cost taxpayers an extra $1.3 billion over ten years,” she said during a Wednesday press conference. Crombie demanded to see Brown’s “updated” numbers based on work done by accounting firm Deloitte in 2019 that was discredited and pushed aside by regional council when it was revealed by The Pointer through a freedom of information investigation that senior regional staff, at the time, had secretly commissioned the report and predetermined its conclusions.
Brown, for the second time this year, is now dragging out the discredited work, claiming it has been updated, to justify keeping the Region of Peel intact, after Doug Ford’s PC government passed the Hazel McCallion Act earlier this year, to dissolve the upper-tier municipal body by January of 2025, when Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon are set to become independent.
Patrick Brown has ignored requests to produce a report that he claims warns about the consequences of Peel's dissolution. Mississauga councillors say no one has seen the "phantom" report.
(The Pointer files)
“Where did he get these numbers from, exactly?” she asked, after earlier referring to Brown’s claims as a “political stunt.” “Nobody, not the media, government or the public have seen and independently reviewed this updated report.”
Brown did not respond to requests to see the report. The City of Brampton did not reply to questions about the existence of the report, where it can be found or if it could be provided to The Pointer, and did not give information to show how the “updated” report was commissioned.
A press release it published last week claims Deloitte has updated its work from 2019, but makes no mention of the senior staff scheme at the Region to predetermine the firm’s conclusions. It also does not explain that Mississauga, Caledon or even Brampton were not consulted by Deloitte in 2019 to provide financial data and service-delivery details for its report. Brown is now claiming, according to “updated” data from the firm, that $1.3 billion will be needed over a decade to cover the costs of regional dissolution, equating to a one-time property tax increase of 38 percent for homeowners and businesses currently in Peel.
The press release does not have a link to the report and does not indicate where the document can be accessed by taxpayers who presumably paid for it. It makes claims relying on the original 2019 Deloitte report, but does not mention that regional councillors dismissed it and tore apart its flawed assumptions—which supported the direction Deloitte was secretly given by senior regional staff behind the backs of elected officials. They eventually ordered their own independent financial analysis, completed by Ernst & Young, which came to the opposite conclusion of Deloitte.
“None of the numbers quoted by Mayor Brown have been validated by the [provincial] Transition Board (currently managing the dissolution of Peel Region), the City of Mississauga, the Region of Peel or the Town of Caledon,” Crombie said. “If this report updates the Deloitte Report from 2019, as he says, it should be immediately discredited, just as the original was.”
“Updating the Deloitte report on the same foundations will only produce the same skewed results.” She described the dismissal of the work in 2019 by Peel council due to “dubious methodology, false, and frankly outrageous assumptions. It was created to justify the existence of the Region of Peel. It was not independent… Why is Mayor Brown so afraid to lead an independent Brampton,” Crombie asked rhetorically, calling him out for irresponsible financial mismanagement, suggesting he has been draining Brampton’s reserve accounts meant for specific costs and to protect taxpayers when unexpected needs arise.
Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, backed by three of the city's council members, asked during a press conference Wednesday why no one has seen a report Patrick Brown has been talking about to justify his desire to keep Peel Region intact.
(City of Mississauga)
She also asked Ford and his PC government to “not make any rash decisions based on faulty numbers and a report that no one has seen.” She requested Queen’s Park “provide clarity as soon as possible,” saying “we need certainty,” and assured her residents it will be “business as usual” through the transition.
She insisted the work of the Transition Board, appointed by the provincial government, continue with its “clear mandate from this government to dissolve the Region of Peel and ensure that all three cities are treated fairly, and that they are left in a healthy, sustainable financial position that allows them to stand on their own two feet,” and asked for the first major report the Transition Board is working on to be expedited.
Mississauga CAO Shari Lichterman was also present at the press conference Wednesday and addressed assumptions that were made by Deloitte.
“The original Deloitte report assumed that there would be two separate police forces, that there would be a pay-out of all contracts that the Region had entered into, that all employees would be severed and receive severance pay, union agreements would be escalated to the highest cost.”
On June 22, Mississauga and Regional Councillor Carolyn Parrish moved a motion for the Regional chair to write a letter to Ford requesting “immediate confirmation” that Peel Regional Police “remain as a single entity” (along with Ontario Provincial Police’s Caledon Detachment) after dissolution, which passed in a 16-8 vote at Regional council.
Peel Police has also stated remaining intact, under a cost sharing model between Mississauga and Brampton, would be the best outcome after dissolution of the Region.
“It’s well documented that a lot of the assumptions that were made in the Deloitte report were simply not realistic,” Lichterman said, expressing concern that Brown, and possibly Ford, are using flawed numbers instead of the independent work being done by the expert Transition Board tasked to guide the process in a fair and impartial manner.
Lichterman, who is overseeing Mississauga’s staff work with the provincial Transition Board, said the goal of the plan was to ensure that “all taxpayers came out of this okay, that no one city was going to significantly be…advantaged over another”. This was the “communication” Mississauga got from the Board.
Now, the CAO is concerned Brown’s unsubstantiated numbers, based on a highly flawed process years ago, are influencing the PCs, who themselves appointed experts to make sure the transition is handled fairly, for taxpayers, employees and all three municipalities.
“It is a bit frustrating that, if this is true, that the government has not taken advice from its own appointed board of experts in this process and that a report that…has no contribution from the current process, would be the one that's being quoted and numbers that are completely inaccurate, being used. But unfortunately, that seems to be what has occurred.”
Some members of Mississauga’s council referred to the updated Deloitte work Brown has been talking about as a “phantom report,” questioning its existence. Councillor Dipika Damerla asked during Council on Wednesday if there is an opportunity for the City to publicly ask for a copy of the report from Brampton.
“What is this phantom report? Where is it? And it's shocking to me that there's rumors that the province would make decisions based on a phantom report that no one's seen, and that's supposedly based on an original report that’s inherently flawed, so [it’d] be very interesting to actually see the report,” she said.
When Lichterman suggested an access request under freedom of information legislation, Councillor Parrish said the matter would be “long resolved before an FOI will work.”
“I don't think it's going to be very advantageous to ask mayor Brown for a copy of the phantom report because I don't think it exists,” she said.
The Pointer’s own investigation in 2019 used documents obtained under a freedom of information request to expose the disturbing level of interference by former Regional staff who secretly commissioned the original Deloitte work.
Peel’s chief administrative officer at the time, David Szwarc, former chief financial officer, Stephen VanOfwegen, and Regional Chair Nando Iannicca (who is still in the role) directed a process, from behind the scenes, to show the provincial government that the best way forward was to keep the Region of Peel intact, the documents showed.
Less than 24 hours after the Ford government announced, in January of 2019, the possibility of dismantling regional governments including Peel’s, VanOfwegen sent an email to Sherona Hollman, manager of financial policy & strategic initiatives in his office, with the subject line "Deloitte." It said: "How soon can we get them started. With the Province announcing early we need to get started on the analysis while sorting out contact and Procurement details in parallel."
Regional councillors were never told about the Deloitte work and had no idea senior staff were using more than $325,000 of taxpayer money to save the government they ran.
Meetings were held with Deloitte before the firm was even awarded the contract.
Eventually, on February 8, 2019, the day the contract was signed, the “Procurement Award Report” that detailed the work Deloitte LLP was supposed to do described that it would conduct a “Financial Impact Analysis of Service Delivery Models,” prepared for a submission to the province “to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of the Regional municipality of Peel under its existing structure in providing value to taxpayers. The Agency (Peel Region’s government) requires expert financial impact analysis services that can be delivered expeditiously to inform this submission to the Province."
This description of the contract was later removed, the FOI documents showed.
When staff had to officially record in writing how the procurement was brought together, a manager in the former CAO’s office, said in an email to Hollman and another colleague, "I really need your help here. We are struggling with the procurement timelines since they don't line up with the meetings we had with Deloitte (i.e. We had a kick off meeting before the contract was awarded)."
The documents, detailed in The Pointer’s investigation, showed Iannicca misled councillors about the justification for hiring Deloitte, and that senior staff secretly colluded to undermine financial analysis provided by Mississauga that showed regional dissolution would save the city’s taxpayers almost a billion dollars over a decade.
The final Deloitte analysis produced the results senior staff and Iannicca sought, and Patrick Brown obtained the report before regional council did, posting its assumptions on social media to win support for his opposition to dissolution.
When Crombie and the rest of Mississauga’s regional councillors found out about what staff and Iannicca had done, they voiced their anger during a 2019 Peel council meeting.
In an email to The Pointer at the time, she said, “To be kept in the dark about staff’s activities, especially given Mississauga provides roughly 60% of the funding to the Region, is simply unacceptable. It appears there was a concerted effort to use taxpayer money, without Council approval, to develop a report to justify the continued existence of the Region.”
The FOI investigation by The Pointer “only bolsters Mississauga’s position that Regional Government in Peel is not working properly, or in the interests of all member municipalities,” she wrote. “A fundamental change is needed to ensure Mississauga residents, taxpayers, and Council are treated with respect and can re-establish trust with the Region.”
The current uncertainty being caused by Brown’s recent claims, dredging up the dismissed report, is not just angering Mississauga’s elected officials.
At Thursday’s Regional Council meeting, Dave Wakely, President of Peel’s Paramedic Union, spoke to members about the anxiety created by the confusion around the Region’s future.
“If the uncertainty created by dissolution is not addressed, we will lose experienced paramedics by June of 2024. Paramedic hiring in Ontario happens, for the most part, once per year… the timing of dissolution means that if Peel’s Paramedics don’t want to lose their futures to chance, they need to apply to other services to get out before dissolution. They need to apply now, and they are.”
There has been no indication that the Paramedic department will be divided into separate organizations to serve Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon; it’s possible that, as has been suggested for Peel Police, the paramedic department could also be kept intact under a cost-sharing model.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Paul Calandra, responded inside Queen’s Park, to questions about the transition process and uncertainty caused by Brown’s claims.
“The transition in Peel is not scheduled to take place until 2025 so that we can undertake a thorough review of what the consequences of any change in Peel Region would be.” He said updates on the transition will be provided when there is more information.
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