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October 5, 2010
Category: Rapid Response — Austin Wright @ 5:13 PM

Since Victor Boutin of Everlast Group announced a $50 million condo/hotel project in downtown Chatham which he made blatantly conditional on Randy Hope’s re-election, I’ve been searching for information.

I admire Mr. Boutin’s entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm. However, in my opinion, the project as announced is implausible, and oversteps accepted practices. Mayor Hope failed to ensure due diligence. Consequently, tax dollars have assisted his re-election campaign by politicizing a premature development announcement, and more dollars are at risk due to Hope’s easy mesmerization by fancy proposals.

Nothing particularly special happened to prompt the mayor’s September 30th press conference. No planning application has been made. Victor Boutin does not own that property yet. There was no reason to make that announcement other than to boost Hope’s campaign, and Hope knew it when he set things up and showed up for the media without Economic Development officials present.

Victor Boutin did not credit mayor Hope with any fervour at all in earlier announcements, but suddenly with a looming election and nary a platform from the mayor, it was all the doing of Hope and his enigmatic “vision.”

This is yet another example from the mayor’s office of why strong ethics reform and business understanding is needed. Developers need to know that Chatham-Kent is open for business, and that it does not depend on who is mayor, nor does it take partisan press conferences. Investors must be assured that we work as a team, one process is followed for all, the playing field is even, and competing interests aren’t using or promising backdoors to endrun due process.

Let’s examine what Mr. Boutin said:

When questioned on whether his investments were conditional on Mayor Hope being re-elected, Boutin was adamant, saying that if Mayor Hope was not re-elected “That would change everything, and I would have to pull out.”

Boutin explained that when making such a high level investment, he needed to be sure he knew who it was he was going into business with, and that it was Randy Hope’s vision that impressed him enough to lure him to Chatham. – www.ckdp.ca

That’s not a slip of the tongue. Thus, an investment announcement that is a culmination of municipal resources has become part of Randy Hope’s re-election campaign in a way that’s better than money. This is eerily similar to the “$70 million if Hope elected” incinerator hoax that was perpetrated on voters in 2006 to rocket Hope and friends into office.

This is why I had Hope’s campaign audited, expecting such loopholes to be closed. Instead, as a result of perjured testimony and a million-dollar lawsuit against Hope’s opponents and other innocent citizens that artificially narrowed the inquiry’s scope and censored the media, the findings were altered to exonerate Hope and the endorsement game was legitimized. Hope won’t have to claim a dime for Boutin’s priceless promotion, but he should.

Research

I have researched Mr. Boutin and Everlast Group, and must admit the record is sparse. In 2000, his former company Everlast Restoration placed one of the highest bids on a bridge rehabilitation project in Chatham-Kent. A search in other municipalities showed tenders where Everlast did not submit bids at all.

I could not find one awarded or completed project, although this by no means constitutes an exhaustive search. Presumably, Everlast Group would have their own accomplishments proudly posted somewhere and submitted for the people of Chatham-Kent to consider, but their website does not demonstrate one single finished project.

Barber Mill, Halton Hills

We’ve heard that Everlast Group is associated with the Barber Mill project in Georgetown. The ancient mill site sits in dilapidated ruins today despite Boutin’s $75 million restoration plans dating from 2004. This appears to be his only pending project. Granted, there have been substantial local obstacles to his plans, and he was forced to revise the development. The property is owned by 879662 Ontario Ltd.

During his press conference, the Chatham Daily News reported the endorsement justification. “Boutin said he ran into hurdles in other communities after a change in the political direction. He’s not prepared to go through that again.”

Considering that Georgetown is the only other project anywhere near this scope, I examined their leadership. Mayor Rick Bonnette was first elected in 2003, beating out incumbent mayor Kathy Gastle. Bonnette was re-elected by a landslide against one opponent in 2006. This year he is acclaimed. Most of the Barber Mill opposition came from concerned residents and certainly not the mayor.

There was no change in political direction after 2004. Unless he can point to another development somewhere that was impeded by a new mayor in 2006, Mr. Boutin’s statement is not true. If he’s referring to Rick Bonnette’s defeat of Kathy Gastle, that happened the year before he proposed the Barber Mills project. Were plans worked out in advance that were thwarted by the election?

It’s very interesting that former mayor Kathy Gastle was soon employed by Everlast Group as the spokesperson, immediately lobbying Halton Hills for the Barber Mills project.

In fact, the only Halton Hills council minutes I could locate on the proposal indicated that the Barber Mill project was represented by somebody other than Boutin – former mayor Gastle herself.

At the time Kathy Gastle was defeated, Halton Hills CAO Steve Andrews had suddenly resigned for undisclosed reasons, following revelations that Andrews had stated an intention to expropriate land from a different developer for the town. The Municipal Act prevented a lame duck council from appointing a replacement. Andrews apparently received a controversial settlement that wasn’t in his contract, and this became an election issue.

Thus, Halton Hills had many changes in 2003, but we don’t know if any of those were relevant to a project announced in 2004.

I am having a hard time substantiating Mr. Boutin’s comments that he’s met mayoral resistance to the point where he justifies personally wading into our election with multi-million dollar partisan mayoral endorsements. In business, that kind of proposition is unheard of and certainly inappropriate. Boutin seems to have hired a spokesperson who might not have been on the best of terms with mayor Bonnette, so any problem there is self-inflicted.

That Halton Hills’ former mayor promptly ended up in his employ as a lobbyist raises more questions. What exactly is Hope doing for Everlast while he’s still mayor? Does he have options lined up for after the election? I think this relationship needs a closer examination.

If anything, this highlights the need to create a Lobbyist Registry that my platform has proposed from day one.

Really, That’s Defamatory

If Boutin has any valid area of concern at all, it should be of Hope or perhaps the council race. Instead, he ignored better options in those lined up to replace the mayor and stomp out his political mischief.

Comments not based on truth or fair comment that tend to disparage an identifiable person and lower their reputation in the community are defamatory. I do not consider that failing to meet with other candidates prior to endorsing Hope was particularly fair. Nobody opposed the project, but Boutin’s endorsement is exposing the fact these plans aren’t what they seem, and aren’t even ready for the aggressive timeline promised.

Boutin did not take the time to consult with Hope’s opponents to chart their vision for Chatham-Kent, nor did he accurately interpret Hope’s so-called “vision” which remains a mystery to our own people. His justification citing political changes elsewhere was allegedly false.

Victor Boutin made inflammatory and disparaging comments against Hope’s challengers including myself that cannot be substantiated, with an added ultimatum that circumvents our due electoral process. That is allegedly defamatory and who knows what else. There can be no defence of “responsible research” when I’ve never been given the chance to present my own vision for Chatham-Kent.

The $50 million question is – how did Boutin form his opinion of the other candidates? If it didn’t come from us, then perhaps it was the mayor casting false aspersions on our reputations? I’d like to know how Boutin became so misinformed and worried that he involved himself in our election.

For the past four years, it is plain and obvious to local residents that mayor Hope has been virtually rudderless, with no coherent direction. He has knowingly enjoyed the protection of lawsuits against his opponents and their innocent families. His own stump speech says he didn’t do enough. Did Mr. Boutin see something in Hope we missed, or does Hope have a doppleganger?

My leadership is no threat whatsoever to economic development. My hard line on ethics ought to be refreshing. My mayor’s office won’t have a back door. Mr. Boutin can be assured that I do my research and will do everything possible to ensure he is treated fairly and welcoming in Chatham-Kent. Taxpayers can be assured that I won’t sign on to unconvincing proposals and hidden costs.

Everlast Group’s CV

In 2004, Boutin’s Everlast Group had a website for one year that listed their primary focus as “New high-rise and medium-rise construction – providing mainly sealant, smoke seal, and foaming,” and “Existing high-rise and medium-rise construction, providing an extensive variety of services with respect to exterior envelope and underground garage repair.” Then it disappeared around 2006.

This is a far cry from the way Everlast is portrayed today, with their new website listing involvement as experts in development, construction, contracting, waterproofing, bridges, geothermal & wind energy, restoration, and demolition – long on jargon, short on accomplishments. No examples of finished work are posted, and the site is anchored around the nonexistent Barber Mill development.

This website emerged on June 1, 2010, and it seemed to redefine the company and add experience not present in earlier versions. It states Everlast Group Ltd. was “formally established in 1980.” The previous Barber Mill site pegs the date of incorporation at 1985. Did Boutin buy an older company to add experience?

The Everlast addresses map to Sota Glazing Inc., which is believed to be part-owned by Victor Boutin providing pre-glazed unitized curtainwall. Like Everlast, Boutin is portrayed as “an integral part of the management” although he isn’t listed anywhere on Sota’s own website. Archived copies also fail to mention Boutin’s role in Sota. There does not appear to be a stand-alone location for Everlast Group, and I didn’t see any signage in Brampton at the Everlast addresses.

Everlast seems to have no accomplishments in Brampton, where its hometown municipality lists the company activity as structure rehabilitation, sealing and waterproofing – Boardwalk on the Thames appears way beyond their level of expertise.

The only Victor Boutin listed in the GTA phone directory gives the address of a law firm on Steeles.

What do we know, then?

All this demonstrates is that we really don’t know much about this company, or whether they have the resources to complete in excess of some $150 million in promised developments. Has anyone checked their financial means? I’d like to see proof that financing is in place, and find out what bank will loan it based on political conditions.

Did Hope see and understand a business plan, like he demanded of the Capitol Theatre? Perhaps mayor Hope’s objectivity was blinded by the help his campaign received from the announcement’s timing, but if these projects don’t get finished, it might make the Capitol Theatre’s taxpayer commitment look like bread money.

Looking at the condo project Boutin unveiled, I cannot believe it’s ready to dig.

“Boutin hopes to break ground on the project by January and expects it will take 14 months to complete.” – Chatham Daily News

“Shovels are expected to break the ground on the downtown project as early as December or January, and Boutin said he expected the build to be complete in roughly fourteen months.” – www.ckdp.ca

The municipality has not received any planning applications to allow such an aggressive start. There is no site plan on file. A survey sketch is done, but apparently nobody has it. The zoning needs more than just a minor variance to get through council, and no Plan of Condominium has been filed. At most, planning officials held a couple of meetings that outlined the steps that are required to submit an application.

There has been no application to the LTVCA. In fact, they only spoke with the developer for 15 minutes. The only material they have came from the municipality, and those plans are not acceptable because mechanical rooms and parking are planned below flood level. A hearing is required to vary the 70 foot creek setback. The developer went ahead with conceptual drawings without accounting for the flood plain. No overhead site plan was provided.

This project is still 4-6 months from commencement if every single application were submitted today, and approved without a hitch. Mr. Boutin does not own the property yet. The artist’s concept depicting a flat street-front across the whole block doesn’t even make sense. There would have to be a major realignment of King Street across the front of Sears at taxpayer expense, and the existing buildings in the drawing face the wrong way.

Boardwalk Architect's ConceptHe only plans 64 underground parking spaces for 86 units plus retail spaces, with “more” parking on site. There isn’t room, but that’s not insurmountable. The flood-prone Simcoe Lane would need reconfiguration. The architectural drawings just seem impossible – that building as depicted won’t fit there. I’ve had an architect look at the picture and he says it isn’t a perspective drawing and the building would have to be “V” shaped because King Street bends 35 degrees in the middle.

YMCA High-rise

The day Boardwalk on the Thames was unveiled, Boutin was “tight-lipped” about his plans for the YMCA property. “He said the project is still in the early stages and it’s too soon to talk about,” according to the Chatham Daily News.

He got his ducks in a row mighty fast. The very next day, Boutin announced intentions to build a high-rise for the site, with the same strings attached to Hope.

A high-rise would impact the CKHA helipad clearances right across the river. That sale doesn’t even close until August 2011. There is no site plan either. How high is this high-rise and will our firetruck ladders reach? Given his endorsement of Hope, that announcement was pure politicking.

I’d like to see a copy of the Real Estate offers where closing is conditional on Hope’s re-election, and why the YMCA would accept such a stipulation.

“Millions” in Investment

The media reported, “Boutin said he has invested millions buying local property — including the former Park Street United Church — because he believes whole-heartedly in Hope’s vision for Chatham-Kent.”

No mention of Hope was made when Boutin purchased the church from Brian Chute. A search of the land title indicated Boutin Holdings Ltd. paid $500,000 cash on October 22, 2009. Plans for the property are unclear, and have changed since it was purchased. The lack of parking is a deal-breaker for virtually every proposal so far, and nothing has made it into the planning process despite consultations. Whatever is planned will need special accommodations to bypass zoning restrictions.

The YMCA purchase doesn’t close until August 2011. The downtown condo property offer to purchase has not been closed yet. Where are these “millions” in investments attributed to mayor Randy Hope besides in press conferences supporting his candidacy conditional on Hope not losing?

Where is CAO Rob Browning and Kathy Weiss at Economic Development Services? Their silence is interesting. Perhaps they see the project is being used for partisan purposes by the mayor, and have declined to get involved. Calls to Kathy Weiss were not returned by press time, and EDS staff declined comment.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the facts in this matter do not add up. Many of Boutin’s statements are contradictory and unsubstantiated. Randy Hope has not performed due diligence. Red flags are popping up all over this bizarre endorsement. Something is wrong with this.

Municipal resources have been devoted to a project that now openly supports the mayor’s re-election bid. His opponents are vexed if they are seen to question the veracity of the claims and thereby compromise an investment.

I have seen enough evidence to warrant immediate questions about these proposals and the election-motivated timing. Randy Hope is too absorbed in his perceived campaign gains to be watching out for taxpayers.

Furthermore, I call upon Mr. Boutin to retract his comments that only Randy Hope has a vision to move Chatham-Kent forward, and to renounce his involvement in our municipal election under threat of taking his money and leaving Dodge if the vote doesn’t go his way. Transparency and democracy demands nothing less. We need investment that plays by the rules, and can’t afford a bad precedent no matter what is dangled.

If I’m elected as mayor, I will pursue the tough ethics rules that I’ve promised all along. I’ll move to appoint the volunteer positions of Integrity Commissioner, Municipal Ombudsman, Auditor General, and Lobbyist Registrar. I’ll introduce a “Customer Service Mission Statement.”

These measures will ensure Chatham-Kent has a reputation for treating investors professionally, fairly and equally, and I promise Mr. Boutin nothing less. My research and actions will always be in the community’s best interests. I’m confident that voters will decide Randy Hope’s unusual alliances are not how we are going to do business or elections in Chatham-Kent.

I lay the blame squarely on mayor Hope. Somehow he must have imparted the notion that his competitors would impede progress. I’ll work hard with Mr. Boutin and the municipal team to repair this damage and proceed with all desirable projects. On behalf of taxpayers, I’ll closely examine proposals for hidden costs, illogical components, and due diligence.

If Randy Hope had an ounce of business experience, he would have recognized that waiting until 25 days before the election to make partisan announcements with conditions about a plan that’s nowhere near ready was not wise. He should not have allowed this to happen despite his past success exploiting the endorsement strategy. We won Boardwalk in Monopoly based on Hope’s instructions to rig the vote in our favour – real elections don’t work that way.

This project could very well be fully above-board. I’m sure that Mr. Boutin will appreciate some critical scrutiny and investigation of the plans and objectives, and welcome the opportunity to present a more complete disclosure of Everlast Group’s credentials. I don’t know if other municipalities welcome investments with political conditions, but I think this kind of ultimatum is a scandalous proposition.

Mr. Hope ought to have let him know that intimidating voters with vexed “vote Randy Hope or else” demands is not how we do things in Chatham-Kent. If these proposals pass objective scrutiny, I’m more than willing to forgive and forget and work together with Mr. Boutin. If they continue to sound fishy, I may be the one saving taxpayers from a big mistake which includes 4 more years of mayor Hope.

Freedom of Information Request

I submitted the following Freedom of Information request to the clerk. Nobody knows that Randy Hope is legally in charge of Freedom of Information requests, and he has erected so many roadblocks to municipal information that I have 3 Appeals to the Privacy Commissioner outstanding, and two more pending. This also needs to be changed by electing myself.

The municipality advised that my request (even though I’ve independently verified that most documents don’t even exist) will need the entire 30 days to provide a response – Conveniently after the election.

This information is requested pursuant to the MFIPPA and as a municipal mayoral candidate:

  • The business plan submitted to the municipality by Everlast Group with respect to the proposed Boardwalk on the Thames development, including references.
  • All architectural plans, structural plans, site plans, surveys, blueprints, floor plans, excavation details, LTVCA approvals, soil tests, environmental assessments and setback distances provided by the developer in support of the project or to secure building permits to enable the December start stated by Victor Boutin in the media. Also, maps showing municipal setbacks.
  • The zoning applications submitted by Everlast Group for the proposed Boardwalk on the Thames development to allow digging to begin in December. How long would the zoning and approval process normally take on a project of this scale? Is a December start plausible?
  • The cost to taxpayers of any re-alignment of King Street to remove the 35 degree angle that is not depicted in the building frontage on the developer’s concept drawing.
  • The regulated parking requirement of a building with 22 hotel rooms, 64 condos, and 15,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Any irrevocable letters of credit, proof of financing, and promises of performance attached to this development, and any documents in which the project is verified for financial viability.
  • All correspondence between Everlast Group, Victor Boutin, or any agent, and Chatham-Kent Economic Development Services, Mayor Randy Hope, and municipal administration.
  • Full particulars of any accommodations, variances, incentives, or municipal resources that have been provided or promised to Everlast Group and its principals in association with the Boardwalk, Park Street United Church, and YMCA proposals, including the cost to taxpayers.
  • Future municipal costs that would typically be associated with a project of this magnitude.
  • Records of all municipal assistance and service provided to Everlast Group and its principals to date, and any expenses incurred by the municipality. Who arranged Mr. Boutin’s press conference with mayor Hope held September 30, 2010? Was this an EDS endeavour?
  • A fair valuation of municipal staff time spent dealing with Everlast Group proposals, in dollar value.
  • All other documents under municipal control relating to Everlast Group, including their Everlast Restoration bid to replace the Jacob Road Bridge submitted in response to Public Tenders that closed December 19, 2000, and any other tenders for which they submitted bids.

With respect to a high-rise building proposed for the YMCA site:

  • Is this property zoned for such a development?
  • Would a high-rise building directly across the river from the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance helicopter landing pad cause restrictions to medivac access?


At this time, I am only requesting to view the documents, but I may request copies of particular items later depending on what is disclosed. This request is time-sensitive. Please provide a prompt reply.

 
 

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