If you built a deck without a building permit the city inspectors would stomp all over your back with hob nailed boots. But the Federal government can build anything it wants, however it wants without one. It’s a legal principle called ‘paramountcy’. It’s based on the idea that one order of government can’t tell the one above it what to do and it makes some kind of sense. You wouldn’t want the province of Prince Edward Island declaring war on North Korea, or the city of Vaughan deciding what OHIP should pay a doctor.
You can imagine my surprise then, when I notice a 33,000 sq. ft., $45M building being constructed in my ward and it had no building permit or any city approvals. In 1996 the Department of National Defence decided to consolidate their ten buildings in Toronto into a single structure which they built on Downsview base land on the north side of Sheppard Ave., just west of the Allen Road. As far as new buildings were concerned the Federal Government had until now, always respected the municipal planning and building process and had applied for building permits even though they didn’t have to. The city was the expert here. Toronto’s official plan laid out standards that protected public interest. The re-zoning process allowed for public input and the city design standards were some of the highest in Canada. This was the first time the military had evoked paramountcy in Toronto. It resulted in a very ugly building.
Art Eggleton was the minister of defence. As a former mayor of Toronto he should have known better. Art and I shared the riding and had always worked co-operatively. My annoyance prompted me to give the building an award. It was a prize that I invented for the occasion; the “Toronto’s Ugliest New Building Award”. I invited Art to receive the honour in a ceremony at the County Style Doughnut shop at Wilson Heights and Sheppard. Alas, Art did not show up so the girl behind the counter accepted it on his behalf as we mugged for the Camera. Fortunately, I was able to present the award formally the next night at the annual “Toronto’s Best Building Award Gala” at the design exchange on Bay Street. Art wasn’t there either.
I next took the issue to council and convinced them to establish a committee that would review any matter, no matter how trivial or routine, related to the Downsview Lands. Council appointed me to chair the committee.
A few months later I received a call from someone who identified himself as a Colonel.
“We need to have a municipal address. I thought that this was a routine matter”, he said. “Now I am told that I have to appear before the Downsview Lands Operational Protocol Committee. The delay in receiving a municipal number is causing a major headache for the armed forces. The building is the centre for all land forces in Ontario and unless we have a municipal address Canada Post will not deliver our mail.”
“We don’t seem to have a record of your building in our files.” I said.
”Can you put us on the agenda?”
“I’d be happy to do that,” I replied“
“When will the Committee be meeting?”
“I’m not sure. It hasn’t had its first meeting yet. Perhaps it will meet in three or maybe six months. It would be helpful in the interim if you paid us the half million in building permit fees that you owe.” “As to postal delivery,” I said. “Tell them to send the mail to Art Eggleton’s constituency office. His staff will be happy to bring it over.”
It took them a year but they finally solved their problem by having Canada Post give them their own postal code.
Since that time they have further ‘uglified’ the building. Instead of flowers they’ve landscaped it with tanks and other military equipment. These, of course, are appropriate decorations for a military structure. You wouldn’t expect the military to display flowers. Only peaceniks do that.
The military hardware is adorned by beautiful brass plaques that trumpet their historical significance. But there is just one problem. During the 3 day G-20 and G-7summit in Toronto when the Harper government blew $1.1 billion on security somebody threw barbed wire fences around the armories. This was obviously to protect the military from attacks by the protesters that never came north of Bloor Street. Now, because of the barbed wire fences, nobody is able to get close enough to read the plaques. Barbed wire, by the way, is illegal in Toronto but then again the Federal government doesn’t have to abide by our bylaws. They have paramountcy.