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Waterfront Toronto CEO says organization has plenty of oversight

Mayor Rob Ford criticized Waterfront Toronto's spending and called for John Campbell, head of Waterfront Toronto, to step down.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

The CEO of Waterfront Toronto, the organization tasked with developing Toronto's lakeshore, says it is "the most overseen agency in the country" and he can't understand why city councillors are accusing the agency of lacking accountability or why the mayor is calling for his resignation.

"We have three governments overseeing us," John Campbell said in an interview.

"We have a department in each government that we deal with. Our long-term plan goes to the governments for their approval and then when we have a project to do in that plan we go up to the government for contribution agreements."

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The agency, which was set up by all three levels of government a decade ago, has faced scrutiny in recent weeks after it was revealed the organization spent $11,565 each for 36 pink umbrellas and $529,800 for large rocks at the city's Sugar Beach park and another $600,000 for a public washroom at a sports field.

In response, Toronto city council voted through a motion requesting the agency to be more transparent and adopt a process to provide members of the public access to information – though Waterfront Toronto posts the value of their awarded contracts online and says they will provide detailed information to anyone who requests it.

Mayor Rob Ford criticized the spending publicly, even calling for Mr. Campbell to step down.

"Folks, this latest example is the last straw," the mayor said this week following reports about the sports field washrooms.

"$600,000 for a washroom? The CEO of Waterfront Toronto must step aside and allow the corporation to be steered in a new fiscally responsible direction."

But Mr. Campbell has no plans to step down and says the criticism partly reflects a lack of understanding for how expensive it is to do work of any kind on the city's waterfront.

"All the land south of Front Street, that's only been there for 100 years or less and so there's no bearing capacity. There's no geotechnical solidity. When you put a light pole in you have to put it down 45 feet to bedrock," Mr. Campbell said.

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As for the criticism of their accountability, the CEO said they may have to change some of their practices to be more transparent. As one example, Waterfront Toronto posts the value of some awarded contracts within a range, rather than a hard figure ($50,000 to $250,000 is category A, $250,000 to $999,999 is category B and more than $1-million is category C).

Mr. Campbell said they do this when contracts are awarded on factors other than just price and as a way to keep bidders competitive, but guessed the board would look at changing that practice.

"That's what we've been doing because it avoids recriminations and long debates with bidders and having to explain why theirs isn't as good. But quite honestly, with all the flack that's turned up, we may well revisit that."

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