No, Council Has NOT Issued a $1.5 Billion Blank Cheque

There has been a lot of talk about Council’s approval of the event centre, the BMO centre expansion, the Arts Commons expansion and the fieldhouse. Unfortunately, a lot of that talk seems to be a lot of misinformation, almost like what’s being passed around is onto round 50 of the game “telephone.” It only took 6 rounds to get “purple monkey dishwasher” added to the initial message in The Simpsons!

So what did Council actually approve on Monday? We granted conditional approval to the four unfunded projects over the next 10 to 15 years. We have identified funding sources for what the City’s portion of these projects could be, but it does not mean each project will move forward unconditionally. In order to be fully approved, each project will need to go through a rigorous assessment process and potential funding partners will need to be identified whether that’s the private sector, other orders of government, or tools such as a community revitalization levy. In no way have we decided that these projects will move forward at any cost. Anything that we decide to push forward will need to have a public and economic benefit.

The projects that received conditional approval total approximately $1.5 billion. This does not mean that is what the City will pay. As I mentioned, we will actively be looking for partners to fund each of these projects. Additionally, the funding sources we have looked at will not be additional taxes. The Event Centre Committee has consistently stated that we will not move forward on a project that results in an increase in your property taxes, and I’m certain the three of us on the Committee will push for that same goal on the other three projects.

The funding sources will absolutely be released to the public. We are still doing internal work to finalize what was decided in closed session on Monday. On top of that, we still need to negotiate and it’s really difficult to negotiate if your cards are known. You would not play poker with your cards visible to everyone at the table. But any deal signed on any of these projects will need to be debated and voted on by Council and all of the details will be made public precisely when they can be made public.

Each assessment committee for the four megaprojects will do their due diligence. The Event Centre Committee has ensured that we have gone through a rigorous process to ensure we have done our due diligence and will continue to do so. We have welcomed two Councillors who have been critical of the event centre to a new subcommittee which will help ensure all viewpoints are heard. More details will be made public at Council on March 18, and I will make sure I share those details with you.

To summarize:

  • The City is NOT spending $1.5 billion. That is the total cost of the four projects. Partners will be required.
  • We did not unconditionally approve the four projects. Rigorous assessments need to be done. The benefit needs to be clearly demonstrated.
  • The funding sources are NOT increases in your property taxes. We committed to that on the Event Centre Assessment Committee and we will push to ensure the same for the other projects.
  • Details on funding sources and deals struck will be made public.

As always, I welcome your thoughtful comments and concerns. You can share them with me here.