Better process needed for spelling out transparency in private-public deals
By Joanne Chianello, CBC News
Surprises are good for birthdays. For spending $1 million of public money to alter public land on a deal negotiated and approved in secret, not so much.
Last week's announcement that the city will hand over $1 million to a private company to build a 50,000 square-foot playground on a beloved waterfront without informing councillors, without consulting the community, with no public details available about the deal — and not even a single pretty picture to woo us — is another display of a lack of transparency at the halls of municipal power.
In January, Sinking Ship Entertainment approached the city to build Canada's largest playground at Mooney's Bay for its Giver TV program that airs on TVO. Using children and adult volunteers, the show has built more than 40 playgrounds. Ottawa's — which the company estimates will be worth $2 million — would be a salute to Canada and a 2017 legacy project.
In return, Sinking Ship wanted $1 million in public money, as well as complete secrecy while conducting negotiations, during which the company reportedly changed its mind once or twice about coming to Ottawa.
Because the city money comes from a parkland fund that is meant for city-wide projects, bureaucrats were able to approve the funding without going to council first. That a city manager could spend $1 million on a park without their approval came as a surprise to some city councillors — and likely not a few taxpayers.
There are many unanswered questions over this deal that was hatched in secret in less than five months.
What are the details of the financing? Does the city bear any fiscal responsibility if the project runs out of money part-way through? Who exactly are the other partners and how much are they donating? Giver is trying to crowdfund $150,000 for the project. As of Thursday afternoon, it had raised $770. What happens if it doesn't raise the $150,000?
What were the criteria for the site? Why did Britannia or Andrew Haydon parks not qualify?
What will the long-term costs be of maintaining this new playground, costs that will fall to city taxpayers?