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Opinion: Dave Dale, Plot thickens on political fronts

The Probity Report was made public this week as we learned the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care approved the $122-million Cassellholme reconstruction and expansion project, despite fairly vigorous objections from municipal partners.
snowflake 2 (2)
Every construction project in Nipissing is unique, just like snowflakes. And most often, both melt when you put a spotlight on them.

It’s going to take more time for me to get through the Probity Report that supports how decisions were made to decide the winning bid for the Cassellholme redevelopment.

My wheels were spinning from the start. I had to look up the word ‘probity’ and I’m still scratching my head about the ‘within budget’ part, so there’s only so much that can be said at this point. Just to save you a Google search, probity refers to having the quality of strong moral principles; honesty and decency, as in 'financial probity.' We don't see that word used much around here.

'Meanwhile, there are other distractions that certainly add flour to the gravy for the ensuing political roast.

First, we have North Bay Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch announcing her Liberal candidacy for the Nipissing riding in the provincial election in June. The long-time councillor, whose father Bill ran as a Conservative and almost beat Liberal Monique Smith in 2007, said she wants to help oust Tory Premier Doug Ford more than unseat MPP Vic Fedeli.

Vrebosch said the best way to help the area deal with social issues is to work on provincial policies, which have a greater impact on local realities than municipal officials can control. As a District of Nipissing Social Services Administrative Board employee, and city council budget chief, she is certainly qualified to have that viewpoint.

I’m curious how this will impact what she says and how it’s said during the current city budget discussions, now that we know her political goal. In hindsight, her leap from the Cassellholme board this spring was timely enough to help disassociate her with the redevelopment project and potential impact on property tax increases. She was a critic of the process and board functions, albeit ineffective in turning the tide.

It will also be interesting to see what Bill Vrebosch says and does.

The veteran municipal politician who set the bar for East Ferris mayors and councillors is in the last year of his first term as a North Bay councillor. He’s known to back his daughter’s plays with ferocity and I could see him stepping up as a mayoral candidate if she doesn’t go for it (depending on the provincial election results, of course).

I wonder how Fedeli feels about Tanya Vrebosch entering the race with a social services and anti-Ford government platform, with the New Democrats Erika Lougheed, an East Ferris councillor, doing much the same. I think it worries the NDP more than the PCs.

The Probity Report was made public this week as we learned the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care approved the $122-million construction and expansion project, despite fairly vigorous objections from municipal partners.

The report was written by The Procurement Law Office, the experts that handled the request for proposals process that attracted two bids, one from an under-qualified proponent. It’s probably cold comfort for the elected officials, who will be dipping into their constituents’ pockets to pay the bills, that the ‘gold standard’ was used for the task. The report indicates it earned 3.75 stars out of four when reviewed by another consulting party.

Most interesting to note at this point is how they rationalized the $22M cost escalation above the “budget” guess that already added $30M to the 2017 estimate:

“Although an initial budget estimate of $68.4 million was generated for the Cassellholme Redevelopment project in 2017, the Cassellholme Redevelopment project team recognized that the cost of building materials inflated since the initial budget was developed and during the course of the RFP process due in part to pandemic-related factors beyond Cassellholme’s control. A further refined estimate of $100 million was provided by the Cassellholme Redevelopment team. The pricing proposal received from the selected proponent was considered by the project team to be within budget based on current market conditions.”

Readers might want to get some extra popcorn for the political showdown to come. North Bay council appointed another member to the Cassellholme board Tuesday evening, its third appointment in seven months. First up was Mayor Al McDonald joining the fray to replace Tanya Vrebosch, but he resigned after the first meeting. Next up was Bill Vrebosch, who roared onto the beach with impressive bluster and then receded like a tsunami often does.

They may have found their Huckleberry in long-time councillor and former Cassellholme board chairman Dave Mendicino. I’m thinking he might stick around longer and that’s probably good, considering Mendicino has ideal experience for what’s going to happen at Cassellholme.

His first task is to find out what the upset limit is for the $122-M construction estimate. I haven’t seen a statement about how there will be any certainty the five-year, multi-stage redevelopment and expansion won’t become a bigger money pit.

Mendicino learned how these things go as a witness to the Memorial Gardens project, which increased exponentially due partly to decisions made after construction started.

Council already has two members on the board, councillors Chris Mayne, board chairman, and Mark King. They are strong supporters of the reconstruction project and defenders of the Cassellholme governance direction.

When the North Bay’s $87-M levy over five years for the project hits the budget books, with about $26M due next year, we should expect a firm assurance about the price ceiling, instead of the current “cost estimate.”

I can understand why nobody is promising it won’t go “a penny over” but how about within $1M? $5M? $10M?

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to editor@baytoday.ca. To contact the writer directly, email: davedale@backinthebay.ca or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca