BramptonU report shows work missing despite $630K already paid to consultants with ties to Patrick Brown & Rowena Santos

·16 min read

Authored by Mustafa Yaqubi, Acting Senior Manager of Public Affairs, and approved by Interim CAO Paul Morrison, a report on the controversial BramptonU plan shows much of what was paid for by the City, after consultants with ties to Mayor Patrick Brown and Councillor Rowena Santos were hired to launch the project, cannot be found by staff.

The public document and responses received Tuesday by the two firms hired to do the work reveal City Hall was in complete disarray under the leadership of Brown and recently fired CAO David Barrick, and that the BramptonU work was completely mismanaged:

Brampton Council directed staff on March 2 to report back a detailed itemized account of spending undertaken by the City to get the controversial Brampton University plan off the ground shortly after Brown and Santos were elected in 2018.

Questions have swirled around the poorly managed strategy, after it was reported by The Pointer that two firms with senior employees closely associated with Brown and Santos were paid more than $600,000, despite having no direct experience doing work to launch a post-secondary institution.

The report on this week’s committee of council agenda reveals that staff cannot find much of the work that was supposed to be completed years ago.

In total, there were twelve deliverables identified as part of the costs incurred, of which staff were unable to determine the final product for five with one deliverable received a year and five months after the final invoice, upon staff’s request.

Culminating in the final expenditure of $629,218.97, the City paid $505,398.95 to Stakeholder Research Associates (SRA), $101,380.66 to Academy for Sustainable Innovation (ASI), $17,299.20 to Bellwether Technologies and $5,140.16 to Enterprise Canada Inc. for work to launch Brampton University.

Both Councillor Santos and Mayor Brown, the two public faces of the BramptonU project, had close links with the consultants hired.

Brown and Rob Godfrey, an employee of Stakeholder Research Associates (SRA) and the son of Postmedia Chair Paul Godfrey, are close friends. The two worked together according to Brown’s own book which chronicles his fall from the PC Party in 2018, with Rob Godfrey as one of his most trusted confidantes.

Santos is a former student and political ally of David Wheeler, co-founder of the Academy for Sustainable Innovation (ASI). Wheeler taught Santos as a post-secondary business instructor. Santos helped him when he sought political office in Nova Scotia in 2017, traveling to Halifax to assist with his campaign.

Wheeler no longer has any association with ASI, after the firm’s name was used in all his efforts to secure the contract and appeared on the limited amount of material he submitted for his work.

Godfrey is no longer listed as an employee on SRA’s website.

Wheeler told The Pointer in an email Tuesday that he ended his association with ASI in 2020.

In a confusing response to the staff review, under a section regarding a $25,400 payment for a comprehensive report on the development and strategy to establish BramptonU that was supposed to be produced in 2019, Wheeler’s former firm, ASI, wrote the City the following this week:

“ASI was not retained for this project nor received revenue for this report. SRA was the sole vendor and retained De. (sic) Wheeler in his capacity as an independent consultant. As co-founder of ASI, Dr. Wheeler often represented ASI in related activities.”

When Wheeler was introduced to council on November 25, 2019 as a new BramptonU consultant, the slide shown to members listed him as “Dr David Wheeler Academy for Sustainable Innovation”.

Staff reveal in their review that the final work that cost $25,400 was called a white paper, but only a “draft” presented July 10, 2019, months before the bidding competition to do the work closed, could be found.

Despite ASI’s claim that it was not retained for the “draft” report, its logo appears on the front of the document.

Councillor Jeff Bowman previously told The Pointer he was never shown the “draft” report when it was submitted by Wheeler months before he was hired.

The 20-slide presentation to council by Wheeler in late November 2019 was a combination of material copied from other sources, background on Wheeler and vague bullet points such as, “Youth mentorship and engagement” as one of the descriptions of the work ASI did, and, “Deliver current undergraduate programming into Brampton using existing resources with the enthusiastic encouragement of the City” under the heading, “Academic Outreach”.

Wheeler’s “Timeline” stated a “Blueprint” would be provided by April of 2020 and “Implementation” would commence in May 2020.

Wheeler suggested BramptonU could open by 2026. It’s unclear how this date was put forward, as it could take decades to launch a new degree-granting institution without an existing university partner, and even with one, it would likely take at least a decade, assuming funding could be secured.

There has been little public information about the work Wheeler did after the workshop presentation in November of 2019.

The company does not have anything to do with launching universities and is involved in helping businesses reduce their carbon footprint.

The methodology section of the draft development strategy lays out work that took place in the spring of 2019 ahead of the BramptonU launch. It is unclear if ASI (and Wheeler) were under contract with the City of Brampton at the time; council did not approve requests for proposals (bids) for the project work until September, 2019.

“A proposal was submitted to the Office of the CAO by Stakeholder Research Associates in late April 2019,” the methodology portion of the document explains. “Following acceptance of the proposal, Dr Wheeler consulted with senior members of the administration of the City Council and their direct reports and did two tours of the City in the week of May 13th (2019).”

Emails show Santos had engaged Wheeler to do the work in March of 2019 and organized meetings in Brampton between him, the CAO at the time and staff in Brown’s mayoral office, more than half a year before the City entered into a contract with her mentor.

Wheeler had recently been fired from his role at Cape Breton University. The CBC reported at the end of 2016 the university’s board dismissed Wheeler, who had been president, over “governance” issues. The firing resulted from the way Wheeler had “characterized and reported” contract negotiations to the board.

The CBC story quoted one of the board members at the university at the time, who explained external counsel was hired to look into concerns, and governance issues regarding Wheeler were “uncovered”.

The terms of his dismissal meant he could not remain at the university as a tenured professor.

About two years later, shortly after Santos was elected as a Brampton councillor, Wheeler began working with her on the BramptonU plan.

The full review of the plan and its funding by the City is being presented to Brampton Council on Wednesday, May 11.

Councillor Jeff Bowman told The Pointer on March 3, when members directed staff to come back with the review, that there was no declaration from any councillor or the Mayor relating to a conflict of interest when council was considering proposals from ASI and SRA.

Santos and Brown did not reply for comment by the time of publication.

On October 4, 2019, the City posted two public requests for proposals (bids), one of which would be awarded to Academy for Sustainable Innovation (ASI) for consulting services for academic engagement and planning for a Brampton university with a successful bid of $99,800. The other contract was awarded to SRA for $170,000. The turn around for the bidding process was only two weeks.

“We didn’t get much of a turnaround to engage in a competitive process,” Councillor Charmaine Williams observed at the March council meeting when the staff review was ordered. “It’s almost like we knew who we were going with, who we were going to award these contracts to.”

Public documents show Wheeler and Godfrey’s firm had been working on the university plan months before being awarded the contracts.

On July 24, 2020, Brampton issued a media release celebrating the consultants and staff for laying “the groundwork for future BramptonU”. It referred to three chapters of BramptonU’s “green paper” as a “preview” of the proposal for a full university. The extracts were taken almost word-for-word, with some minor edits, from the draft proposal completed in July, 2019, by ASI and SRA, months before they were given the contracts.

The work that was published as a preview in July 2020 had been completed more than 12 months earlier.

According to documents obtained by The Pointer, Godfrey’s firm, SRA, sent invoices to the City of Brampton in a steady stream right after the contract was awarded.

Between November 28, 2019 and February 28, 2020, an invoicing schedule shows payments almost weekly. On November 28, 2019, for example, just 10 days after Brampton awarded SRA its contract, an invoice was sent for $20,000 in government relations and property development, $15,000 for public polling and $10,000 for community engagement. Including tax, this invoice came to a total of $50,850.

SRA did not respond to questions in March asking to explain what work it had done for “GR, property development”. This work cost Brampton taxpayers $100,000 between November 2019 and February 2020.

The staff review on this week’s committee of council meeting agenda shows ASI, Wheeler’s firm, was supposed to submit a short list of potential partners for BramptonU approved by City Council and the consultant was to then open non-binding negotiations to establish draft MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) with up to ten institutions.

Staff were unable to find any product or final report indicating this was completed.

In its response this week, sent to the City, ASI says it was “told to stop work”. The firm does not state who told it to stop the work or why.

After staff reached out to ASI for further information while the review was being put together, ASI gave documents showing $10,144.88 worth of expenses for air travel and Airbnb from Wheeler, who undertook the job for ASI, none of which line up with the timing of the request for proposal.

While the job wasn’t assigned until Nov. 4, the expenses show $952.64 in airfare dated October 9, 2019 and $3,276.24 in Airbnb expenses for the period of April 11, 2019 to August 12, 2019.

The staff report noted these inconsistencies.

In an interview with The Pointer, Wheeler said the “wrong Airbnb expense was submitted by ASI due to a clerical error” and provided The Pointer with an expense report, which listed $3,276.24 of Airbnb expenses occurring from Nov. 4 to Dec. 8, 2019, along with several local mileage expenses.

Wheeler said the travel funds on Oct. 9, 2019, were used to fly in from the UK to complete the bidding process for ASI.

“This was at my risk as we did not know the outcome of the tender at that point,” Wheeler said.

“It was a legitimate expense to fly from the UK to do the work, whenever this expense was incurred. It should be noted that in the attached file many legitimate expenses were not reimbursed (totaling around $8k), including return fares to the UK, per diems etc which I believe represented excellent value for money for Brampton.”

In March, when Councillor Pat Fortini raised concerns during a public meeting that Wheeler had expensed Brampton taxpayers for international travel, even though he was not under contract with the City at the time, Santos said the allegation was a “lie”.

Asked about his relationship with Santos and her work to get him the job, Wheeler said, “Councillor Santos had no involvement in any of the contracting which was always overseen by the CAOs at the time.” He repeated what Santos has told council, that she was told by Brampton’s integrity commissioner at the time (who has since been dismissed after council members questioned the cost of her engagement) it was okay for her to deal with the BramptonU file even though she had a close relationship with Wheeler. Council has voted for an investigation into Santos’s involvement with the BramptonU file and her ties to Wheeler, which is to be conducted once a new integrity commissioner is ready to do the probe.

Wheeler says his work represented good value for Brampton taxpayers.

“Like the expenses, you will note that I significantly exceeded my hours on both projects for reasons set out in the two letters to Councillors,” he said. “I was, and remain an absolute believer in the importance of BramptonU for the City and its residents and that is why I committed at the level I did. It is therefore ironic to me that someone so committed to the best outcomes for the City is challenged over their involvement rather than those who it appears worked to undermine the BramptonU concept from the beginning.”

Under Consulting Services for Stakeholder Engagement for a Brampton university, the City paid $174,678.31 to Stakeholder Research Associates (SRA). Four deliverables were expected, yet staff were unable to find any evidence of two of the deliverables, and a third which arrived a year and five months late and only upon staff request.

The two missing include SRA conducting outreach to government officials at provincial, municipal, and federal levels to consult on, and ensure support for the City’s plans for Brampton University, as well as conducting multiple public meetings and other forms of outreach to community organizations in Brampton and the wider region.

Staff were unable to find evidence that either was completed.

Asked late last year by The Pointer if the Province had earmarked any funds to help make BramptonU a reality, a spokesperson for the City of Brampton admitted it had not. Queen’s Park itself has had very little to say about the project.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Colleges and Universities said in December it had “received a letter from Mayor Brown outlining proposed steps towards establishing a new university in Brampton through a special purpose”. The Province suggested this was the only document or correspondence it has received.

The second deliverable under the section, which arrived a year and five months later, was a report showing that SRA conducted preliminary outreach to the property development and investment communities to gauge levels of interest in partnering with the City on campus student housing developments.

In total, the City paid Stakeholder Research Associates $174,678.31 for this work which resulted in Mainstreet Research Polling work as well as preliminary outreach to property development and investment communities that arrived over a year and a half late.

SRA was reached for comment. The Canadian number on their website was no longer in use, directing to a secondary number. The unidentified individual who answered the secondary number identified themself as being with SRA and said they were not answering media questions at this time.

Previous references to Godfrey have been removed from their website.

The firm submitted responses to the City this week, after the review report by staff was made publicly available.

Regarding part of the $174,678 deliverable, SRA says Wheeler’s work was actually done for SRA, not ASI, the firm he co-founded: “The culmination of these activities are reflected in the BramptonU Pitch to the Province, which was delivered by Dr. David Wheeler (SRA) by email to Brampton staff for the City’s finalization and submission to the Province. In addition please reference meetings during this period with the Office of the CAO.”

The firm appears to believe much of the work Wheeler did under the contract signed with ASI was actually work for SRA, the firm Godfrey was with when it received a separate contract.

Another area with missing content was a $240,000 purchase order on August 24, 2020 for three deliverables from Stakeholder Research Associates (SRA), of which one deliverable was missing.

The one missing is a Labour Economic Assessment, where SRA were responsible for soliciting proposals from leading consultants to do a detailed exploration of future needs of Brampton employers.

In its response this week SRA says this work was moved by Brampton staff at the time to a different part of the contract, under “Government Relations”. It’s unclear why a local labour needs assessment would be shifted to “government relations”. Staff who worked on the review reported that they were unable to find the work, regardless of which part of the contract it might have been moved to.

The deliverables received include Government Relations Activities, where SRA had to engage the province to establish a special purpose vehicle, which is a subsidiary created by a parent company to isolate financial risk.

The other received is Sustained Stakeholder Engagement, where SRA had to continue to take the pulse of stakeholders within the Brampton Community and may include a larger stakeholder base from the broader region.

Staff believe the final report for this activity is titled “BramptonU Business Sector Stakeholder Engagement Final Report” dated March 28, 2021 Council received an updated report on January 27, 2021 titled “SRA Business Community Engagement Update”.

It’s unclear what was submitted and if any of the work led to agreements with government bodies or private sector stakeholders.

In total, this work cost the City $240,000.

Another $5,140.16 was paid to Enterprise Canada Inc. for the sole job of delivering a BramptonU Communication and Marketing plan.

Staff were unable to find the final report, with the cost borne by the City.

Council members have said it appears the entire BramptonU plan is now dead. Councillor Martin Medeiros said late last year, when concerns swirled over the BramptonU concept, that it was no longer an “option”.

There has been no official update on the project in more than a year.

Councillors called for an investigation into the plan after six members signed an open letter declaring democracy in Brampton was “under siege” during the leadership of Patrick Brown and senior staff recruited by him, many of whom have recently departed City Hall since the majority six-member bloc began taking action to restore good governance.

The review of BramptonU will be dealt with today in a council committee meeting.

Email: jessica.durling@thepointer.com

Twitter: @JessicaRDurling

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