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Feb.6 meeting follow-up post #4

4. Social engineering tools #7 to #11

In early June 2017, Lura, the city’s community consultation contractor for Dufferin Grove, posted the city’s “State of Good Repair” (SOGR) and “Feasibility” studies on its website. The following week, big foam-board posters went up all over the park encouraging people walking by to “have your say” about “your vision” for the northwest corner and the clubhouse. The posters invited people to go to the website. But during the following five months, there were no new posts on the website. There were also no messages for the Community Resource Group (CRG) members. The group dwindled from 13 to 9. Silence is the seventh tool of social engineering. The earlier urgency to choose options had suddenly gone.

Then on Nov.14 2017 Lura sent the CRG members a copy of the Request for Proposals (RFP) and an offer to include two CRG members on the panel to evaluate the design applicants, if the two members would sign a non-disclosure agreement and if they had 5-7 days of volunteer time available in January. Two members signed on. The Request asked design firms for proposals that would consider a new rink, clubhouse, gardens, ovens, everything.

On January 26, 2018, the website said that the RFP call was closed and the two CRG members were undergoing training. City staff’s message to everyone else was: “Everything depends on the work of the [design] consultant. Whether the city has to tear down the building depends on the consultant’s opinion of the scope of work.” Back to social engineering tool number five. Only experts can decide.

Then there was silence for 8 months longer.

During the many months of official silence, ongoing conversations down at city hall didn’t involve either park users or the program staff at Dufferin Grove. How much was being negotiated wasn't clear until park friend Migs Bartula, who takes an interest in city politics, came across a contract item on a council committee agenda, near the end of April. Approval was sought for a contract for $694,747 to DTAH Architects Ltd. for "professional and technical design consulting services for a new community recreation clubhouse and park improvements at northwest corner of Dufferin Grove Park." And on page 10 of the city’s 2018 capital budget, Migs found a little line item called "Dufferin Grove New Community Centre," allocating another $3.14 million for 2018. Suddenly there was a lot of money. And Lura didn’t tell the CRG members for another 5 months.

The third meeting of the CRG was on October 17 2018, only it was called the first meeting on the timeline that Lura presented. From then on things started to move fast. The timeline called for 9 CRG meetings, interspersed with 4 larger public meetings. After October 17 there was a CRG meeting on November 28, another on December 11, and a public meeting on Feb.6, 2019. The funding was now said to be $4.5 million. More people joined the CRG as the word got out via the park newsletter, bringing the current number up to 17, plus the design team and political staff. Lura had to rent a bigger meeting room.

Clearly the time had passed for any discussion of why this project should happen at all. A proposal to use the sudden budget wealth to fix long-neglected problems all over the park, instead of focusing only on the rink, was simply ignored. (E.g. turn the nasty field house washroom building into a theatre lab, build a long-awaited accessible washroom by the playground, new paving for the crumbling paths, and so on.) Peter Didiano, a city Capital Projects supervisor, told the November 28 CRG meeting that there was new evidence the 25-year-old rink was on its last legs. The evidence he gave was that the rink hadn’t opened on time. The evaporator/condenser part of the rink machinery had malfunctioned because of rust.

Mr. Didiano didn’t mention that the “Feasibility Study” commissioned by the city in 2015 had warned about the rust on Dufferin Rink’s rooftop condenser three years before, but nothing had been done. The worsening of the problem was not discovered during the fall because the city’s maintenance contract, for mechanics to check the outdoor rinks in good time before the season began, was only put in place one week before the rinks were scheduled to open. It was not old age that had tripped up the rink opening. It was poor management.

Playing the “old age” card is a variant of invoking unspecified code violations, the third tool of “integrated behavioural change” used in managing community consultations. Most of the CRG members hadn’t noticed the rusty condenser warning buried in the Feasibility Study when it was made public in June 2017, and weren’t told about the absence of the maintenance contract. So presenting the rink as generally decrepit, despite its excellent reputation as one of the best in the city, impressed the CRG members.

The project team followed this up with the eighth tool: swamping people with information. At the December 11 meeting, the design team presented a 69-page report about possible plans for the rink house. At the public meeting that followed in February, the report had grown to 96 pages long. One example of how it had been bulked up was by including information such as (p.43)

  • Encourage the use of low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles, carpooling and carsharing

•Encourage cycling as a clean air alternative

•Encourage walking as a clean air alternative for all ages and abilities.

What this had to do with the decisions about the rinkhouse is anybody's guess.

The length of the reports meant that the presentations and the round-table-time for focusing on all the choices took up most of the meeting, leaving little chance for public discussion. And the presentations stayed resolutely on message: the ninth tool. In the public meeting presentation, the word “improvement” was used 64 times.

At the time of the first run of meetings back in 2017, one of the early CRG members wrote that “the City's presentation was obviously skewed in favour of Option 3 (total rebuild), yet the City did not acknowledge this bias. I am pretty sure we all noticed [that] the slide explaining the 3 options used specific graphic design elements that encourage the audience (us) to view Option 3 as more desirable.” This comment came during an email exchange between the CRG members. But when the meetings resumed after the 17-month gap, Lura wrote to the members: “We want to discourage the use of email chain we would like to host important discussions in the shared CRG meeting space.” That was the tenth tool. The consultancy must stay in control of the community consultation.

And in case the community consultation still did not result in agreement with the city’s plan, there was one final tool that trumped the rest. A friend from Etobicoke described a community consultation in his neighbourhood, also run by Lura. A questionnaire found that 80% of the people who were asked said they wanted better maintenance for their local park, not a new pavilion as the city proposed. Their city councillor said he would respect public opinion and cancel the project. But then park neighbours found they were getting a pavilion anyway. One of them applied to the Freedom of Information office for the city's internal correspondence related to the decision. They found an email to the Etobicoke councillor’s office from Daniel McLaughlin, the construction manager of Parks and Rec Capital Projects. Under “Key points” he had written: “City Council approval is not required for....the Pavilion to proceed as [it is] within the current approved capital budget.” The eleventh tool of social engineering is power. Once city staff get a project included in the massive and confusing city capital budget, it’s in. And that’s what happened during the long silence in the Dufferin Grove community consultation process. The Capital Projects payroll fund will get its percentage.

My next two posts will be about the DTAH design firm’s proposals for the new rink and clubhouse.

Back to the front page of this series here.

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