When is a ‘windfall’ a fool’s folly?

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said it was probably one of the largest windfalls the city has ever seen, or ever will. It might seem like a windfall to Ford but the reality is that he sold far more than he realized. He sold an important piece of Toronto’s heritage. In a move based on greed and misinformation, he convinced city council to sell its share of Enwave.

Envwave started up in 1964 as the Toronto Hydro district steam plant on Pearl Street. The mandate for the steam plant was to provide heat to municipal properties and institutions in downtown Toronto. Toronto citizens grumbled as the street or just traffic lane closures occurred as piping started to be run throughout the downtown area to carry steam to the district plant’s customers.

Flash forward to 2012, almost 50 years later, and Enwave Corporation is providing heating and cooling to more than 50 per cent of the potential market in downtown Toronto. Because of the capital costs required to built the Deep Lake Water Cooling capability, Enwave has become a corporation under the Ontario Corporations Act owned 50 per cent by the City of Toronto and the other by a branch of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Savings System (OMERS). This new corporation had the expertise to also take over and run another district heat and power system in Windsor.

Enwave has deserved the awards and praise it has gained over the years. It is successful because it has grown by innovation. It has installed more than 40 kilometres of piping under the streets of Toronto to carry both cold water and steam to cool and heat Toronto’s downtown towers and other facilities.

And now, city council has sold its citizens’ share of this priceless part of Toronto’s downtown infrastructure for just $168 million. With little thought for the future, council has opted for today’s financial gratification and are letting tomorrow look after itself. Those in favour of this fiasco are saying that the city gained a profit of $100 million from the sale as Toronto’s total contribution over the years was supposed to be just $68 million.

But Toronto’s contribution was far more. There are pipes under the downtown roads that were allowed to be placed there by Toronto pedestrians and drivers who endured the disruption to their city. It is money that the citizen’s invested over the years through their taxes and fees. Enwave belonged to them.

And yet Toronto councillors are now squabbling over the proceeds. When you kill the golden goose people, you end up with nothing. You are bad managers of the public trust.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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