Written by: My Toronto on December 13, 2017



The City of Toronto has received a Greater Toronto’s Top Employers award for the fourth year in a row for offering an exceptional place to work, as announced today.

“It is an honour to once again receive this award in addition to our Canada’s Top 100 Employer recognition last month,” said City Manager Peter Wallace. “Creating a positive workplace culture and fostering innovation is important to staying competitive in the job market and attracting and retaining the best talent.”

The 12th annual Greater Toronto’s Top Employers competition is organized by the editors of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. Employers are compared to other organizations in their field to determine employers whose workplace operations and human resources practices offer the most progressive and forward-thinking programs and create the best work environment.

The areas of evaluation for Greater Toronto Employers are physical workplace; work atmosphere and social; health, financial and family benefits; vacation and time off; employee communications; performance management; training and skills development; and community involvement.

Written by: My Toronto on November 29, 2017

Ontario’s One Cylinder Economy: Housing in Toronto and Weak Business Investment

Economic growth in Ontario has lagged Canada since 2003, reducing the province to ‘have-not’ status within Confederation. One theme that runs throughout the paper’s analysis is the persistent weakness of Ontario’s manufacturing sector, where output has fallen in absolute terms since the recession that began nearly a decade ago. Given that manufacturing is still Ontario’s third largest industry, it is critical that its health be restored if the Ontario economy is to fully recover and prosper.

Manufacturing has recovered in other provinces in Canada, notably Quebec despite the well-documented woes of Bombardier. Manufacturing has become a larger share of Quebec’s economy than of Ontario’s, partly a reflection of how manufacturing has shrunk from 21.7% of Ontario’s economy in 2002 to 12.1% in 2015. This suggests manufacturing’s problems in Ontario cannot be blamed on global factors such as US export demand or the exchange rate, but are something specific to Ontario. The paper finds that the high cost of doing business in Ontario is the main drag on growth. These costs include everything from high electricity rates, the rising cost of labour and high income taxes to the indirect cost of a heavy regulatory burden. In particular, energy-intensive manufacturing has fared much better in Quebec than in Ontario in recent years, helped by Quebec’s much lower electricity prices. As a result of the high costs in Ontario, the temporary weakness that inevitably accompanied the 2008/09 recession has become chronically weak growth. Sluggish growth has erased Ontario’s historically lower unemployment rate than in neighbouring Quebec, a province long known for extensive government intervention in the economy and large government debts.

More broadly, business investment in manufacturing and elsewhere has languished during the recovery. Overall, investment plans are for $50.9 billion in 2017, compared with their pre-recession peak of $53.8 billion. Most of this reluctance to invest originates in the manufacturing industry. This reflects a number of factors. While the automobile industry has retooled its existing plants, no new plants have opened since 2009 while existing capacity continues to be shuttered, with another line scheduled to close this summer. Investment has fallen even more in other industries ranging from petroleum refining to lumber, computers and electronics, and rubber and plastics.

Chronically weak growth in manufacturing has left Ontario increasingly dependent on housing, which has contributed over 29% of its income growth in the past year, even before a spike in housing starts and prices early in 2016. Besides a sharp increase in housing starts in Toronto, there has also been a marked shift from the building of single-family homes to multiple-unit dwellings, mostly apartment and condominium buildings. The squeeze on the supply of single-family homes, partly the result of land use regulations, helped fuel the surge in their prices. At the same time, the increased supply of multiple units is threatened by the extension of rent controls by the provincial government.

With a growing chorus of analysts and the federal government warning that a possible bubble in Toronto’s housing market risks deflating, this leaves Ontario precariously dependent on a potentially unstable and unsustainable source of growth. A correction in the Toronto housing market would leave both Ontario’s economy and government fiscal projections vulnerable to a downward revision.

Written by: My Toronto on November 21, 2017

By Christine Wong

Toronto program teaches young entrepreneurs about love and Web development

Sunny Verma is used to tossing ideas around with other would-be CEOs over drinks at a local bar, but a new 10-week boot camp for startups recently had him dining at the Bridle Path mansion of a Canadian trucking tycoon.

The home is owned by Lorne Swartz, who founded Gallop Logistics Corp. and built it into a refrigerated trucking conglomerate that transported over half a billion dollars in goods per year before it was acquired by a U.S. firm in 2006. Verma, 27, was invited to dinner there along with nine other lucky participants in the Young Entrepreneurs’ Club (YEC), a 10-week program that pairs 10 aspiring CEOs with 10 successful businesspeople for – you guessed it – 10 weeks.

“The range of advice we’re getting is unbelievable,” says Verma, who was impressed by Swartz’s swanky digs in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood, where the average house went for $4.6 million in 2007 and whose residents have included singers Prince and Celine Dion and media barons Conrad Black and Moses Znaimer.

Related Story: Canadian start-ups get helping hand from Silicon Valley Canucks

Even more valuable for Verma, however, was the chance to get personal access to such a successful entrepreneur in an incredibly intimate setting.

“(It’s) having the opportunity to speak to them in a one-to-one setting and even follow up with conversations afterward (so) they can give guidance to people,” says Verma, founder and president of the educational tutoring company TutorBright.

Dinner chez Swartz was — so far — the most extravagant of the 10-week sessions in the YEC program, where most have featured guest speakers at a pub just west of Toronto’s theatre district. The program wraps on Aug. 24 when all 10 entrepreneurs under 30 pitch their business plans to a panel of venture capitalists and angel investors. About five investors are lined up for the panel but organizers are still trying to nail down a total of about 10 for that night.

It’s the first year for YEC, which was launched by four Toronto entrepreneurs who, like the 10 YEC participants, are all under 30. The final 10 were whittled down from about 45 applicants, with some of the final 10 participants trekking to Toronto each week from Waterloo, Ont. and Kingston, Ont. for the program. Since interest in YEC has come from as far as Vancouver, Manitoba and the U.S., in future the program may include a digital distance learning aspect or actually expand to other cities, says organizer Jennifer Turliuk.

While there are similar programs already out there, from business plan competitions to pitch contests, this one tries to be unique in being open to young entrepreneurs from any industry (not just tech), and in offering ongoing one-on-one sessions rather than just a one-time event, Turliuk says.

“We’ve found some of our participants are involved in other support programs but also joined ours because they felt something was missing from theirs,” says Turliuk. “And we noticed a lot of (entrepreneurial) talent in Canada was defecting to either corporations or the States when they noticed a lot of their peers weren’t pursuing entrepreneurship in Canada. So we want to show it’s possible to do it (in Canada).”

Besides Swartz, other speakers and mentors at this year’s inaugural YEC camp include branding whiz Jamie Salter (the matchmaker behind Lady Gaga’s celebrity endorsement deal with Polaroid Corp. and Sarah Jessica Parker’s teaming with fashion label Halston), and Michele Romanow, co-founder of the group buying site Buytopia.

YEC features sessions on everything from marketing to Web development to “romantic relationships and how to balance those as an entrepreneur,” Turliuk says. Verma has actually shifted his business plan after advice from one of the YEC mentors, who told him not to expand too quickly through a recent deal to franchise TutorBright, which started in 2008 and now has 80 employees.

“They said ‘You’re going to be cannibalizing yourself, you’re growing a little too quickly and that can (need) overhauling.’ And that really re-evaluated everything for us. So we’re taking a lot slower and methodological approach,” Verma explains.

Even if he walks away after 10 weeks with no money from angel investors on Aug. 24, Verma feels he’s already learned a lesson that’s even more valuable.

“Make sure it’s the right strategic partner. Make sure they’re not just a source of capital but a right fit,” Verma cautions. “Money means nothing at the end of the day if you don’t have the right person assisting you.”

Christine Wong is a Staff Writer at Follow her on Twitter, and join in the conversation on the ITBusiness Facebook Page.

Written by: My Toronto on November 21, 2017

michael hyatt

A law firm founded in 1856 may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about tech innovation, but Toronto-born Blakes wants to change that perception.

It’s why Blakes decided to bring on Michael Hyatt as its first-ever entrepreneur-in-residence, which will be a credibility boost to the firm that launched its Nitro program for startups in June.

The Nitro program — which currently has 21 startups — earmarks $1 million in legal services from senior lawyers, which is key for startups that are often overwhelmed by building their products.

“To build a company takes a village; there’s not one thing that works. There’s still a gap in knowledge in what to do to optimize traction.”

“I think founders find when they’re three to five years into the company, they wish they would have done certain things from a very early time. They wish they had the right cap table. They wish they had the right share structure and shareholder agreement,” Hyatt said. “Startups are running so fast they ignore all that, and five years in they’re running into some trouble because they’re not documenting the right things, or they gave away equity poorly to founders not even in the company.”

With two exits behind him — his most recent being his $400 million sale of BlueCat — Hyatt will be able to add an extra layer of mentorship to the program. He’ll also act as an advisor to Blakes on running the Nitro program effectively.

For Blakes, Nitro is an opportunity to stay ahead of emerging technologies and business models as they unfold; Nitro program founder and Blakes partner Christine Ing identifies blockchain as a particular area of interest because of inroads with smart contracts. At the same time, working closely with startups enables the firm to see where they can improve their own operational inefficiencies using tech like AI.

“In terms of practice of law, AI tools will be the ones that we will need to look at in-depth.”

“These areas will certainly require changes to the law as regulatory changes will be required, and it just means a lot of new thinking, and new paradigms to consider. In terms of practice of law, AI tools will be the ones that we will need to look at in-depth early and adopt into our own practice,” said Ing.

Ulula, one of the first startups to join the program, recently closed a $1 million seed round and suggests that the program is set up to keep up with the fast pace of startup growth. “As a startup, nimbleness is a critical advantage. Even though Blakes is not a startup like Ulula, my co-founder and I could still find the agility we need from the Nitro program because it’s built for startups and run by people who have lived startup experience,” said Manu Kabahizi, co-founder and CTO of Ulula.

While the program is currently only open to startups in Toronto and Waterloo, the firm plans to expand to another market, though Ing declined to share specifics. Moving forward, both Ing and Hyatt express optimism for a program that fills an underserved gap in a startup’s journey.

“To build a company takes a village; there’s not one thing that works. Legal is part of it, and entrepreneurs that have been there and done that is part of it,” said Hyatt. “It’s never been a better time to start a company and it’s never been more inexpensive, but there’s still a gap in knowledge in what to do to optimize traction. You hear people raising money all the time, and then they spend it badly or don’t do the right thing and then they end up doing a down round. But we’re trying to shape these companies so they can grow.”

Photo via Speakers Spotlight, Story Jessica Galang

Written by: My Toronto on November 19, 2017

There’s an entrepreneur in Toronto who’s really into underwear, and its paid off nicely for her.

Joanne Griffiths is the CEO of KnixWear, a company that has created a line of women’s underwear that’s “comfortable as can be, beautiful to behold, and technologically state-of-the-art.”

The underwear absorbs any kind of moisture that the body can come up with, prevents odors,  “keeping you feeling fresh and dry all day long – without the feeling that you’re wearing anything other than your most comfortable pair of undies.”

KnixWear developed its own patented technology, “FreshFix,” which is moisture-wicking, anti-odor, absorbent, moisture-resistant and features moisture-locking sides. “We’re taking a very basic product that hasn’t changed very much over the past 50 years and infused it with technology to give women something new and different,” Griffiths told BetaKit. “The idea is that we give women functional benefits with their underwear without asking them to sacrifice on the fit or the fashion side.”


Griffiths came from a PR and marketing background having worked for Universal Music, the Toronto International Film Festival and CBC before getting her MBA in France in 2011. The born-and-raised Torontonian told BetaKit “that’s when I really started getting the entrepreneurial bug: I’m one of the accidental entrepreneurs. I didn’t really think I’d ever do this and I became obsessed with the idea.”

She started Knixwear when she returned to Toronto in July 2012 and in the last few years has experienced a few nice wins. The first one came when Hudson’s Bay company elected to pick up her first line of underwear after the first of two Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns. Over 18 stores started selling the product, which Griffiths said was the first time something like that had happened based on a crowdfunding campaign.

12310245856_5dd44fe050_mThe momentum from the first Indiegogo campaign saw the company receive significant media exposure in the U.S, leading to a popular athletic spandex company approaching Griffiths to co-produce a new line of absorbent underwear geared towards athletes. Together with LYCRA the pair of brands developed the FitKnix line.

“We did our second indiegogo campaign through that and then again we had a retailer buy our line through the campaign, this time a US retailer called, the biggest online etailor for women’s fashion in the US,” said Griffiths.

I asked her if there has ever been any reaction of pride on the part of women, who might say they don’t need a product like this to function every day at work and such, but Griffiths said the response after the first crowdfunding campaign was “overwhelming”. “If you look at athletic apparel in general, they all use high performance moisture wicking and anti-odor fabrics, so we’re just taking that and applying it to underwear,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any shame associated with that.”

She recently wrapped up a filming on the CBC show Dragons’ Den and she won’t find out for a while whether the segment will go on tv.

By the end of June KnixWear will be sold in 140 retail stores. I also wondered aloud if her product might appeal to the guys.

“Men are an interesting beast and I’d love to make a product for men because I think you can have a sense of humour,” said Griffiths. “With women its all about confidence, beauty and feeling fresh, and guys have a bit more of a light-hearted attitude towards all these things. I do get asked all the time when we’re going to make a men’s line and I think there’s a definite need for it.”

Written by: My Toronto on November 9, 2017

Pilot program for newcomers launching companies in Canada to be made permanent

Canadians are welcoming to people and ideas from around the globe. Welcoming entrepreneurs who have the expertise to turn their ideas into successful companies is one way that Canada’s openness can help build a world-class innovation economy.

The Start-up Visa Program, a pathway to permanent residence for cutting-edge entrepreneurs launching a start-up company in Canada, will become a regular feature of Canada’s immigration landscape in 2018.

As part of the five-year pilot, launched in 2013, innovative entrepreneurs can apply to become permanent residents after a Canadian venture capital fund or angel investor group has made a significant financial commitment in their business idea, or after a business incubator has accepted them into their program.

A recent evaluation of the Start-up Visa Program found that it is delivering on its goals; immigrant entrepreneurs are actively developing innovative companies in Canada that are beginning to show positive results for Canada’s economy and creating middle-class jobs across a range of industries.

Making the program permanent supports the Government of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, which seeks to attract investment and support the growth of a diverse range of companies, creating well-paying jobs for Canadians.

In the months ahead, IRCC will work to finalize regulations for the permanent program in order to have a seamless transition when the pilot expires on March 31, 2018.


“Every company launched in Canada with the help of the Start-up Visa Program has the potential to be a big win for Canadians by providing middle-class jobs and strengthening our economy. Our Government’s Innovation and Skills Plan has identified the nurturing of entrepreneurship and the growth of start-ups as vitally important to Canada’s present and future economy. Making the Start-up Visa Program permanent supports that agenda.”

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

“Canadians benefit through the jobs that are created when entrepreneurs come from all corners of the globe to start businesses in this country. By making the Start-up Visa Program permanent, Canada will attract more innovative entrepreneurs who generate new business opportunities, create jobs and equip Canadians with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.”

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Quick Facts

  • As of July 15, 2017, 117 principal applicants have been approved for permanent residence. These entrepreneurs represent 68 start-ups launched in Canada with the help of the Start-up Visa Program.
  • More than 50 Canadian venture capital funds, angel investor groups and business incubators are now designated to participate in the program.
  • During the first three years of the pilot program, Start-up Visa Program entrepreneurs received over $3.7 million in investment capital from designated entities to get their companies established and making contributions to the growth and innovation of the Canadian economy.
Written by: My Toronto on November 5, 2017

By BlogTo

Toronto businesses that closed in October encompassed both longtime fixtures in the city (that will hopefully live on as different incarnations of themselves) and slightly less established places that will still be missed.

Here are the most notable Toronto businesses that closed in October.

House of Lords

Despite promises of property tax relief for small businesses along Yonge St., the longstanding Yonge St. hair salon packed up shop in early October.

Ashdale Brunch and Espresso

Having opened a little over two years ago in brunch-heavy Leslieville, this Queen East cafe closed with no warning or explanation.

Belmonte Raw

Another Leslieville spot – a shop specializing in cold-pressed juices –also shuttered last month (along with its second location in the Financial District’s PATH), after nine years in business.

The Green Room

This beloved hidden hangout in the Annex has lived many lives, and it lives on again where Crown and Tiger once was on College St. in Little Italy, but the funky back-alley space it once occupied deserves its own proper RIP.


The one highlight of the depressing subterranean Shops at Aura at Yonge & Gerrard closed at the end of October. But there’s still hope for fans of this popular mom-and-pop fast-food stall’s made-from-scratch Japanese curry – it’s currently looking for a new location.

Milestones (John & Richmond)

After 18 years in the Entertainment District, this chain restaurant at John & Richmond shut its doors so as not to compete with its sibling location at Yonge & Dundas.

The Rectory Cafe

A classic place to drink and dine on Toronto Island, the Rectory boasted a lovely lakeside patio. Its owners decided not to renew their lease and had their final day of service on October 15. The business was put up for sale, so there’s still a good chance it will be reincarnated in some form next year.

The Steady

This Miami-inspired, queer-friendly bar and vegan brunch joint in Bloorcourt opened in 2013 and closed on Halloween. The space has since been sold to an unknown buyer.

Written by: My Toronto on October 30, 2017

Toronto led the pack of North American cities in The Economist’s 2017 Safe Cities index, which evaluates and ranks 60 global cities across four categories of security: digital, health, infrastructure and personal. While the Safe Cities Index measures relative rather than absolute safety, there does not appear to have been a vast improvement in overall levels of safety since the 2015 report. However, Toronto’s ranking jumped from 8th in 2015 to 4th in 2017, highlighting how the Canadian city has provided some stability in a rapidly changing world.

The report also touched upon how developments in smart city and green technology help cities address infrastructure safety concerns such as climate change and natural disasters. For example, a simulation study in Toronto predicted that if half the city’s roof surfaces were green, irrigated roofs, it would reduce temperatures across the entire city by 1-2 degrees Celsius.

Written by: My Toronto on October 29, 2017

Anne Kingston Anne Kingston

In late September, Barack Obama spoke in Toronto at a brilliantly produced event offering the perfect forum for his uplifting “Yes, we still can” message. The occasion also provided a triumphant, brand-burnishing moment for its organizer, Canada 2020, the Ottawa-based enterprise that bills itself as “Canada’s leading, independent, progressive think tank.”

Canada 2020’s scarlet-and-white logo was plastered throughout the Metro Toronto Convention Centre—over the stage, on the T-shirts worn by helpful young volunteers. Screens overhead displayed logos of the event’s many sponsors (among them Shell, Bell, Facebook and Canada Goose) as well as images from past power schmoozes for which Canada 2020 is known—conferences, panels and summits attended by “thought leaders,” politicians, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, journalists and academics who discuss Big Ideas—from inclusive prosperity to digital democracy. Images of Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson and Larry Summers, former U.S. treasury secretary, flashed by on the screen, as did a parade of big-L Liberals, prominently Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet, and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Two of those ministers, Bill Morneau and Navdeep Bains*, sat in the audience, as did Wynne.

President Barack Obama at the Canada2020 event. (Lisa Zarzeczny)President Barack Obama at the Canada2020 event. (Lisa Zarzeczny)
When Canada 2020 co-founder Susan Smith took the stage to introduce Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss, who had the plum gig of introducing Obama, Smith called the not-for-profit a place where “public policy and cool collide.” She referred to ties between Canada 2020, the Liberal Party and the Obama Democrats. Trudeau’s first official trip to Washington in 2016 saw the “handing of the progressive torch from Barack Obama to Justin Trudeau,” Smith said, noting Canada 2020 was there: back then, they had “thought it would be cool to launch a policy lunch with the Prime Minister” and threw a “kick-ass” party. The Obama event in Toronto was the largest Canada 2020 had thrown, Smith told the crowd of some 3,000.

As such, it represented a milestone for the organization, founded in 2006 amid the ashes of federal Liberal defeat. Post-2015 Liberal sweep, Canada 2020’s symbiotic relationship with the Liberal Party and the Trudeau government has put it under the microscope, with closer scrutiny being paid to connections ranging from the party renting space from Canada 2020 during the last election to its president, Tom Pitfield, vacationing in 2016 with Trudeau on an island owned by the Aga Khan—a trip now being investigated by the ethics commissioner.

Canada 2020 President Thomas Pitfield and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are shown in a handout photo. Canada 2020 recently introduced a new donor agreement that must be signed by any company or group that gives it money, making it clear that the donation won’t buy access to the prime minister, his cabinet ministers or anyone else who attends the organization’s events. (Canada 2020/CP)Canada 2020 President Thomas Pitfield and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are shown in a handout photo.

Tom Mulcair, then NDP leader, likely thought he was delivering a blow late last year when he called out Canada 2020 as “simply a wing of the Liberal Party of Canada.” But the descriptor doesn’t begin to capture the power nexus the organization has come to represent—it’s less the Liberal Party’s wing and more its spine. The enterprise has been instrumental in shaping the current governing party, from its policies to its leader. It’s an incubator of—and showcase for—bright, rising Liberal talent. A year and a half before running for Bob Rae’s vacated seat, Chrystia Freeland appeared on a January 2012 Canada 2020 panel, “The Canada We Want in 2020: Income Disparity and Polarization.” In the wake of the federal “cash for access” scandal, Canada 2020 has been accused of acting as a gatekeeper to power via its events, which see industry leaders and lobbyists rub elbows with cabinet ministers and senior government officials.
To study Canada 2020, it’s useful to have some grid paper to better map its myriad interconnections, many which reveal the two degrees of separation that define Canadian politics. Three of its co-founders—Smith, Tim Barber and Eugene Lang, all well-connected Liberals—were also principals in the Ottawa-based Bluesky Strategy Group, a firm whose services include lobbying and media relations (Lang left Bluesky and Canada 2020 in 2013). Pitfield, the fourth named co-founder, has impeccable Liberal bona fides: the son of Senator Michael Pitfield, clerk of the Privy Council when Pierre Trudeau was PM; a lifelong friend of Justin Trudeau, helping him write the stirring 2000 eulogy to his father that paved his way to political office. Pitfield, who also worked for the Canada China Business Council founded by billionaire Paul ­Desmarais, is married to Anna Gainey, elected president of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2014; he ran digital strategy for Trudeau’s leadership bid and also for the 2015 federal Liberal campaign.
Connections between Canada 2020, the Liberal Party and Bluesky can look like a Venn diagram on steroids. Bluesky and Canada 2020 are based at 35 O’Connor St., where the party rented space for a temporary “volunteer hub” during the election. Pitfield intersects with the Liberals professionally via his company Data Sciences Inc., which has an exclusive agreement to manage the party’s digital engagement; two Data Sciences staffers sit on the Liberal Party’s board of directors.

FROM 2015: Inside the making of a Prime Minister: Trudeau’s epic journey
Where there is Liberal news, there’s often a Canada 2020 connection. Take the recent controversy over Rana Sarkar, named Canada’s consul general to San Francisco at a salary twice the listed compensation. Media focused on his friendship with Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s senior adviser. But Sarkar has deep Canada 2020 links, too: he was named to its advisory board in 2015, is the author of a chapter in one of its “policy road maps,” and has participated in its speaker series. The bottom line: to understand this big-L Liberal moment in Canadian politics, you have to understand Canada 2020.
Canada 2020 event at the National Gallery in Ottawa on June 2nd, 2014.(Jake Wright)Canada 2020 event at the National Gallery in Ottawa on June 2nd, 2014.(Jake Wright)
When asked about the organization’s genesis, co-founder Tim Barber points to an Oct. 2003 New York Times Magazine story, “Notion Building,” about the Center for American Progress (CAP), which had recently been founded by John Podesta. Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff (and later an Obama adviser) wanted to take on the right with an enterprise that could book liberal thinkers on cable TV, create an “edgy’’ website, and recruit scholars to research and promote new progressive policy ideas. CAP wasn’t an organ of the Democratic Party, Podesta insisted, though history points to it being just that.
Podesta hates the term “think tank,” Barber says. “I do too. It’s way too passive and conjures days gone by. His view was that there’s an opportunity for organizations to put as much time into marketing and communicating big ideas as coming up with those big ideas.”
Canada 2020’s first conference, “Progressive Policies, Practical Solutions,” set the stage in June 2006, attracting some 150 people from government, business and academia to Mont Tremblant, Que. Most were Liberals, eager to refocus a party riven by infighting and lack of focus. Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore gave the keynote. Barber wryly dismisses media reports that Gore charged US$80,000: “It was more like $100,000.” (When asked what Obama charged, Barber won’t say, offering only: “It was competitive.”)
The party’s old guard (Bill Graham) mingled with new (Butts). John Manley, Jean Chrétien’s right hand, and Anne McLellan, right hand to Paul Martin, co-chaired. Revitalizing the party was certainly the objective of some, McLellan tells Maclean’s: “It was picking ourselves up off of the mat and saying ‘Let’s do better next time.’ ”
Justin Trudeau also was on the scene, in sandals and T-shirt. The 34-year-old, then working on a master’s in environmental geography, was on Canada 2020’s first advisory board, as was Butts. Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son was then emerging as the party’s new, yet familiar face. He’d co-hosted a tribute to Jean Chrétien at the 2003 leadership convention and was named chair of Liberal “Youth Renewal” in 2006. The Liberals are “doing a lot of soul-searching right now,’’ Trudeau told the Globe and Mail, calling the event ‘‘a chance to actually start thinking long-term again.” Eight months later, he announced his run for the Liberal nomination in Montreal’s Papineau riding. Five years after winning the seat, he was Liberal leader.
Trudeau’s rise would be abetted by the machinery that helped Obama win the presidency in 2008, forged via connections between Canada 2020, the Liberals and Global Progress Initiative, an international network also founded by Podesta; Canada 2020 became its Canadian hub. Matt Browne, a senior fellow at CAP, sits on 2020’s impressively diverse advisory board. In 2011, the Liberals licensed the Democrats’ VoteBuilder database, modified it and repackaged it as “Liberalist.” Trudeau’s team, including Butts and Katie Telford (now the PM’s chief of staff), attended a 2012 CAP event on lessons from the Obama campaign. Precision Strategies, run by former Obama strategists, had provided “Team Trudeau” with advice since 2013, Politico reported in 2016. CAP’s Global Progress Initiative held international events attended by the “Trudeau Liberals and the guys from Canada 2020,” Browne told the Globe and Mail in 2016. Policies from CAP’s Inclusive Prosperity Commission—pledging to address income inequality and dispensing with a zero-deficit target—found their way into the Liberal platform.

READ: Why some businesses might be OK with a populist Trudeau budget
Once party leader, Trudeau was given a big-thinker platform at Canada 2020 events. In 2014, he delivered the keynote at its first annual conference, where he infamously remarked during a Q & A that Canada should consider a humanitarian mission in Iraq rather than “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.”
Pitfield incorporated Data Sciences in 2014; he was named Canada 2020’s president in 2015. As one Ottawa insider puts it: “Tom was put in the window to demonstrate affinity with a party that would play with them.” The Liberals’ sweep to power, and the excitement accompanying it, heightened Canada 2020’s profile; Trudeau and his ministers were draws at Canada 2020 events. (Not everyone was thrilled; one observer notes the oxygen Canada 2020 took up diverted attention from long-standing “progressive” think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Broadbent Institute). The PM appeared at a 2020 after-party following the June 2016 North American Leaders’ Summit with Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto; it saw ministers mingling over drinks with those who lobby them. Trudeau is also front and centre at the annual Global Progress Summit in Montreal, a gathering of global movers and shakers co-hosted by Canada 2020 and CAP; in 2016, he conducted an “armchair discussion” with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Trudeau’s cabinet also headlines frequently. In 2015, Catherine McKenna, newly named minister of environment and climate change, gave the keynote at Canada 2020’s annual conference. In June 2017, Harjit Sajjan, Bill Morneau, Kathleen Wynne and Ontario MP Liz Sandals all appeared. At the time, Bluesky was lobbying Sajjan’s department on a replacement for CF-18s and the PMO on behalf of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a Canada 2020 sponsor.
Defence MinisterHarjit Sajjan speaks at the Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa, Friday June 16, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/CP)Defence MinisterHarjit Sajjan speaks at the Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa, Friday June 16, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/CP)
Canada 2020’s sponsorship list grew with time, but it was tough going in the early days, McLellan says. “We didn’t know we would make it.” CAP began with a multi-million-dollar budget, thanks in part to donations from financier George Soros, and now has a staff of hundreds. No Soros-like figure bankrolled Canada 2020, which has a full-time staff of three, says Barber. There was a “Founders Circle” but he doesn’t talk about it: “That ship has sailed. Now we have ‘sustaining partners’—basically people that like what we do.” That list includes more than 30 of the country’s biggest corporations, among them TD Bank, Amgen, Manulife, Suncor, Enbridge, Via Rail, RioTinto, Telus and Rogers (the parent company of Maclean’s).
Barber waves off a minor furor in the House over the federal government paying $15,000 to Canada 2020 for an innovation conference at which Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi spoke. “Oh my god!” Barber says mockingly. “Yeah, but it cost $600,000 to put on.” During the Harper years, they’d also received small funding amounts, he says.
As a not-for-profit, Canada 2020 isn’t required to make financial statements public. Nor will it say how much sponsors donate, only that sponsorship is renewed annually and that everyone receives equal ranking, no matter what they donate. Sponsorship is vital, says Barber; they try to make as many events as possible free.
To retain not-for-profit status with the Canada Revenue Agency, a group must be non-partisan, says Donald Abelson, a political science professor at Western University and author of Northern Lights: Exploring Canada’s Think Tank Landscape. “Non-partisan doesn’t mean being non-ideological,” he adds. “It means a think tank can’t oppose a candidate or endorse a candidate or give money. They can say, ‘We’ve written a paper on UI and endorse the direction of the government.’ ”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau takes part in a discussion at the fourth annual Canada 2020 Conference in Ottawa Thursday June 15, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/CP)Finance Minister Bill Morneau takes part in a discussion at the fourth annual Canada 2020 Conference in Ottawa Thursday June 15, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/CP)
Barber rejects any suggestion Canada 2020 is a big-L think tank, noting that conservatives like Brian Mulroney and former cabinet ministers Jason Kenney and John Baird have also appeared at events. “I prefer ‘progressive,’ ” he says.
Still, there’s no question Canada 2020’s priorities dovetail with the federal agenda. This year, economist Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at the Ivey Business School (and a former Maclean’s contributor), was named the federal government’s “chief innovation fellow.” He’d been a senior associate at Canada 2020, who received funding for a volume on innovation published this year.
Canada 2020 events have also fed Liberal Party fundraising, a fact laid bare in a 2016 WikiLeaks hack of the email account of John Podesta, then Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman (the ironies here abound). An email from Clinton aide Huma Abedin stated “Trudeau’s team” had been told Clinton was displeased that her 2014 speech at a Canada 2020 event was used to fundraise ( invited donors to join a draw to win a return trip to Ottawa, breakfast with the PM and to hear Clinton speak). “This was supposed to be a completely apolitical event,” Abedin wrote. A similar contest was held before Trudeau’s trip to Washington. The prize: a trip for two to D.C. and participation in “exclusive events” with Trudeau organized by Canada 2020 and CAP.
Concern about Canada 2020’s influence and tight ties with the federal government has already become an academic sub-genre. In his new book, Doctors in Denial: Why Big Pharma and the Canadian Medical Profession Are Too Close for Comfort, Joel Lexchin cites a two-day “health summit” sponsored by Canada 2020 and the Canadian Medical Association in September 2016 as running contrary to public health interests. The event, “A New Health Accord for All Canadians,” attracted a who’s-who of the health insurance and pharmaceutical sectors, including representatives of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the largest U.S. pharmaceutical lobby group. Jane Philpott, then the health minister, attended with senior Health Canada officials, with Philpott speaking of the importance of improving Canadian accessibility to pharmaceuticals. Alliances between government, industry and the medical profession run contrary to public health interests, Lexchin, a professor emeritus at York University, tells Maclean’s. “Drug companies have a long history of actions damaging public health,” he says, “either in the prices they set or the facts the drugs they are interested in are the ones that generate the largest revenue, not those that meet highest public health need.”

READ: Q&A: Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett on their biggest challenges
In December 2016, Canada 2020 staged its “Second Annual Health Innovation Conference,” also attended by Philpott and senior departmental officials. The conference was chaired by two Canada 2020 advisers who lobby for the pharmaceutical industry: Shannon MacDonald, who works for Johnson & Johnson, and Kim Furlong, of Amgen.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, finds the in-plain-sight commingling of industry, government and lobbyists at Canada 2020 events confounding: “It blows my mind, it’s so blatant,” he says. “Canada 2020 has set up a structure that is non-criminal in terms of influence being peddled, but that is unethical and a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act.”
Neither Canada 2020 nor Bluesky are lobbying the government directly, the professor of politics and law at the University of Ottawa says. “But all big lobbyists who can afford it know that, if you want to influence Trudeau, you become a Canada 2020 sponsor; that will help you with your lobbying of the federal government. I don’t know how they believe there is this grey area.”
In November 2016, after the “cash for access” controversy that saw the government introduce new transparency rules, Canada 2020 rewrote its donor agreement, found on its website, to state donations are not “a means to gain access to, or obtain an audience with, any speaker, attendee or any other person at or connected with any program or event hosted or arranged by or on behalf of Canada 2020.” Conacher is skeptical: “They can say that. But you can’t claim that when factually it’s not true. If you do sponsor an event, you will get access to senior decision-makers in the government.”
The mandate letters Trudeau wrote to cabinet ministers and made public were useful to lobbyists, Joe Jordan, a former Liberal MP and now a Bluesky senior associate, told the Hill Times earlier this year: they “made it easier than in the past for lobbyists to see what the government wants to achieve and find common threads.”
Access is influence, says Conacher, who points to rule seven of the Conflict of Interest Act, which states no public office holder can give “preferential treatment to any person or organization.” And the government helped Canada 2020 hold numerous events, including one during Trudeau’s Washington visit, Conacher says. “I don’t think the Trudeau PMO and cabinet could prove that they have not given preferential treatment to Canada 2020.”

Susan Smith. (Jake Wright)Susan Smith. (Jake Wright)
When these concerns were put to the PMO, press secretary Eleanore Catenaro noted that the “Prime Minister regularly meets with different organizations both in Canada and around the world, and is accessible to Canadians across the country,” in an email that provided a checklist of other organizations and events Trudeau has engaged with, including WE Day, the Atlantic Council, HeForShe and Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.

Conacher is calling for the ethics commissioner to investigate how one organization is suddenly able to hold events ministers attend. “Each of those ministers would have to show that other organizations have invited us and we have shown up at the same rate.”
He’s not optimistic. Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, on her third six-month, interim contract, appears beholden to the government, he says. In July, Democracy Watch filed a Federal Court case challenging the renewed appointments of the ethics commissioner and the lobbying commissioner. “We believe [Dawson] is in conflict of interest—she’s serving at the pleasure of the PM and will not be reappointed unless she pleases Trudeau.”

Conacher views Canada 2020 as the latest iteration of a federal tradition, likening it to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy during the Harper years and the Canada Policy Research Networks for the Chrétien and Martin Liberals: “the favoured think tank” that helps produce reports and hold events “that the government wants produced and held.”
Abelson, who studies think tanks, believes Canada 2020’s strength is self-promotion. “Has 2020 made its presence felt? Yes—in terms of media, events, workshops; it’s cited in Parliament,” he says. But its influence on policy is more difficult to determine at this stage. “They’ve focused on marketing and promotion. That’s only sustainable if you produce interesting, important studies that engage a number of stakeholder groups. You can’t rely on conferences and ties to high-profile people.”
For now, though, Canada 2020 is directing the conversation through its peerless command of imagery and visual cues—a mastery it shares with the Liberal Party. At the recent Obama event, Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada appointed by Obama, conducted a Q & A in which the former president praised “Justin” as a young leader representing “traditional values of democracy.” Heyman name-checked Canada 2020, once asking the former president: “What can Canada 2020 and the people in the room do for you?” referring to the Obama Foundation. Obama said he’d just asked 2020 organizers the same thing: “I asked them, ‘How can I help you? How can I help networks around the world?’ ”

Canada 2020 event in April 2014 with Brian Mulroney as the special guest speaker at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa. The city’s who’s who showed up, including left to right: Susan Smith, Vicki Simons, Bruce Heyman, Nathalie Gauthier, and Tim Barber. (Jake Wright)Canada 2020 event in April 2014 with Brian Mulroney as the special guest speaker at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa. The city’s who’s who showed up, including left to right: Susan Smith, Vicki Simons, Bruce Heyman, Nathalie Gauthier, and Tim Barber. (Jake Wright)
Heyman’s presence offered yet another 2020 synchronicity: as a major Obama donor, he supported a president whose lessons informed Team Trudeau. Now he’s a Canada 2020 “special adviser,” working on a voluntary basis to, as 2020’s website puts it, “help think through our organization’s vision, mission, and yes, even branding (2020 is fast approaching, after all).” And lest we forget, so too is the next federal election.

Written by: My Toronto on October 29, 2017

Fans of former Girls frontman Christopher Owens were left puzzled on Thursday, October 12, when a headlining show at the Garrison was cancelled just hours before show time.

None more so, perhaps, than Owens himself, who was in San Francisco when he noticed a tweet indicating that he was due onstage in Toronto in a manner of hours.

“What?” he tweeted in response to a tweet about that night’s show. “Nuts!… I feel for the people that bought tickets, I’m finding out like this!”

“Toronto is very strange,” Owens says when I get him on the phone the next week. The story he tells me is deeper than your run-of-the-mill cancelled show.

Even when it was announced that Owens was due to perform solo, the timing seemed odd. He didn’t have a new album to promote and had just formed a new group, Curls. However a cursory glance at Owens’s unofficial tour pages showed stops across the continent, including Brooklyn and Austin.

By the time of the Toronto show, all of the other tour stops had been cancelled, leaving the Garrison as the one outlier even as Curls announced tour dates across California with Cults and Deerhunter this month.

One Toronto fan, Spencer MacEachern, noticed Owens’s tweet of confusion, but the news came too late for many ticket-holders, who arrived at the venue to find a hand-scrawled note on the door informing them that the Californian singer/songwriter wouldn’t playing and that tickets would be refunded at the point of purchase.


Acting as an amateur sleuth, MacEachern reached out to Owens’s long-time booker, Matt Hickey at High Road, who responded that “Christopher had some fan book a few shows, and these shows were never really happening.”

Ticket-holders were given refunds and there were no hard feelings, but the confusion and lack of details has exposed a sad and revealing story about both Owens and the indie music business.

The story begins in May of this year. Though Girls’ sophomore release had made it to number 37 on the Billboard Hot 200 in 2011, six years later, its mastermind, through an unspecified “a lot of things I don’t want to go into,” found himself homeless on the streets of San Francisco. (He had hinted at this on Twitter, but no one grasped its sincerity.)

“I was staying up all night wandering the streets, sleeping during the daytime in a park and busking all the time,” Owens recalls.

At some point, a fan recognized the critically acclaimed musician and took pity on him. “I think this guy was really just worried about me.”

Owens says the pair had a conversation that ended with the well-intentioned fan offering to book him some shows to get him back on his feet. He assumed he meant in San Francisco. “So when I first saw these announcements on Twitter, that was the first I knew of it,” he says.

According to Owens, the fan reached out to a friend of his “who used to book TLC,” asking if he could help the former Girls singer out. A few months later, Owens started getting notifications of shows, first in Arizona and Austin, then across the country.

“He didn’t get in touch with me and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve booked, is that cool?’ I want to hope he didn’t know what he was doing, but then again it just seems all so silly,” Owens says. “This person had my phone number. Surely he should have called.”

At the time, Owens says none of his contacts from his Girls days would take his calls, except Hickey. So he reached out, and Hickey set up calls with all of the venues they could find that the fan had booked. Owens says the Garrison should have been on that list but wants to give the promoters the benefit of the doubt.

“The Garrison and the Baby G host 600-plus shows annually,” writes the venue’s owner, Shaun Bowring, in an email to NOW. “Occasionally some of those shows get cancelled due to a multitude of reasons. I’m sure you understand working relationships of business deals and the privacy that our working partners expect in relation to those deals. The Christopher Owens show was booked and ultimately cancelled with those ideals in place.”

Even had he known about the show, Owens says it would have been impossible due to commitments with his new group, adding that he hopes to make it to Toronto with Curls, whose initial release Vante is due November 7 on Urban Scandal.

“The guys I’m playing with are exactly what I’ve looked for for years now. They live here in the city. They don’t live in L.A. or New York, which is what happened with Girls and even my solo project,” Owens says, with noticeable pride in his voice. “We play together twice a week, regardless if we’re playing a show or not. These guys are really great musicians and I’d love to be able to show them off.”

As for the fan who booked the shows, Owens says there are no hard feelings. “I don’t know,” he demurs. “Maybe he felt like he got caught with his pants down?”


Written by: My Toronto on October 29, 2017

Donald Trump called himself a “genius” for investing in Toronto’s Trump Tower— but behind the scenes, he had no money on the line. The inside story of an unlikely bankruptcy, and the investors who lost everything when they bet on the Trump brand.

US President Donald Trump sits by Defense Secretary James Mattis (C) during a meeting with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on October 5, 2017. As early as 2001, Donald Trump claimed that he had made a “substantial” investment in Toronto’s Trump Tower, but in reality he only had a contract to licence out his name and manage the hotel.


US President Donald Trump sits by Defense Secretary James Mattis (C) during a meeting with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on October 5, 2017. As early as 2001, Donald Trump claimed that he had made a “substantial” investment in Toronto’s Trump Tower, but in reality he only had a contract to licence out his name and manage the hotel.

Let’s say you’re Donald Trump.


It’s 2002, and you’ve agreed to have your name emblazoned across the top of the tallest residential tower in Canada: a $500-million, five-star condo-hotel in downtown Toronto.


Here’s the thing: Only months into the project, your lead developer is publicly exposed in the pages of the Toronto Star as a fugitive fraudster on the run from U.S. justice. Your major institutional partner — the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company — bails shortly after.


Your remaining partners in the deal — a group of investors assembled by the criminal who was just outed — include a New York camera store owner, a former Chicago nursing-home administrator, two small-time landlords in Britain and a little-known Toronto billionaire who earned a fortune in the former Soviet Union.


The one thing they all have in common — no experience in condo tower development.


Do you pull out? For Trump, the answer was no. The billionaire dug in, repeatedly told the world he was investing his own money in the project — claims that would prove false — and gushed about its spectacular promise, knowing his profits were guaranteed.


“Nothing like this has ever been built in Toronto,” Trump said in 2004 as he relaunched the stalled project. “It is going to be the ultimate destination for business, pleasure and entertainment.”

• Trump name will be scrubbed from Toronto skyline after tower sale • ‘Beautiful’ paper towels, ‘really smart’ Vegas attacker: Trump’s most bizarre interview yet?

Fast forward to 2016 and Trump’s Toronto tower is built but bankrupt — a rare failure in Toronto’s booming downtown condo market.


In the last decade, more than 400 condominium towers of 14 storeys or more have been successfully built in Toronto, according to records at City Hall. Among those, the half-dozen industry insiders and analysts interviewed for this story could identify only one that went bankrupt after completion: the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto.


An investigation by the Toronto Star and Columbia Journalism Investigations in New York reveals the tower that until recently bore the U.S. president’s name was so hamstrung by inexperienced partners and an unorthodox foreign financing deal that it couldn’t be saved by Trump’s public assurances of excellence.


“It’s pretty hard to make a mess of a real-estate investment (in Toronto),” said Toronto lawyer Marc Senderowitz, who represented four of the project’s minority investors. “In retrospect, I could have taken their money, bought a small commercial building and sat on it for 15 years … Things just went off the rails.”


Donald Trump first announced his involvement with the tower in 2001, when Mel Lastman was mayor of Toronto. Three mayors later, the tower was built but bankrupt.

Donald Trump first announced his involvement with the tower in 2001, when Mel Lastman was mayor of Toronto. Three mayors later, the tower was built but bankrupt.


A review of bankruptcy documents and public records in three countries, as well as interviews with the rotating cast of players involved in the deal over more than a decade provides new insights about Trump’s business approach, the unconventional partners he works with and the risks for those who bet on the Trump brand.


In the end, every investor lost money on Toronto’s Trump Tower. Everyone except Trump, who walked away with millions.


“Trump never put money in; he just took money out,” said John Latimer, a former Toronto developer who worked briefly for the project.


Now that Trump is U.S. president, his conduct during the Toronto project gives an indication of how he might manage challenges with far higher stakes than a mere real estate deal.


“As I understand it, in Toronto, Trump made inaccurate statements” that may have influenced people who invested in the project, said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in legal and government ethics. “He has shown a willingness to speak inaccurately and encourages people to rely on his inaccuracies, even when that ends up causing harm to them.”


“In the case of the Toronto deal, the harm was financial. In the case of the presidency,” she said, it could be “apocalyptic.”


Trump projects around the world — from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan to New York City — have attracted media scrutiny for their partners with Russian links and the Trump organization’s questionable due diligence.


The parallels between Trump’s tower in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood — which also entered bankruptcy — and the Toronto development, are striking: Both towers used the same hybrid hotel-condo model; both ran into trouble when the global financial crisis hit in 2007 and some unit purchasers walked away, while others sued. In both projects, Trump claimed to have a financial stake, only later to admit that it was a licensing deal. In both projects Trump family members presented inflated sales figures when the towers, in reality, stood nearly empty.


Donald Trump, and his children Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric, to attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony of and leave the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto on Apr 16 2012.

Donald Trump, and his children Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric, to attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony of and leave the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto on Apr 16 2012.

In the New York case, Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka were investigated for potential felony fraud charges for their role in misrepresenting sales figures.

Today, more than five years after the Toronto tower opened, the skyscraper on Adelaide St. remains three-quarters empty, current property records show.

Last fall, the tower’s development company, Talon International Inc., went bankrupt, unable to repay more than $300 million owing on the construction loan. While the tower’s new owners have removed Trump’s name, the full story of who partnered with Trump to build in Toronto has never been told.

Initially, the name at the top of the tower on Bay and Adelaide Sts. was to read “Ritz-Carlton.”

The project was the dream of Trump’s original partner, Leib Waldman, a Toronto condo developer with a track record of several successful towers and apartment blocks across the GTA. Waldman hired the prestigious architect Eberhard Zeidler and raised seed money in the Orthodox Jewish community in Toronto, New York and London, U.K.

Waldman’s minority investors, some of whom have never been publicly identified, have varied and often colourful backgrounds, but no experience in condo tower development.

◾Brooklyn-based camera shop operator Eugene Mendlowits, 51, owned a 4-per-cent stake in the tower through a shell company called Barrel Tower Developments. In 2005, as the Toronto tower was in development, he and two partners purchased a New York sweater factory and converted it into lofts without the city’s permission. The building subsequently racked up more than 100 complaints from tenants, for issues relating to inadequate heat and faulty wiring, and dozens of bylaw violations. In 2009, the city ordered everyone evicted because conditions were “hazardous to illegal tenants occupying (the) building.” In 2014, one of Mendlowits’ partners in the factory — Menachem “Max” Stark — was kidnapped and bundled into a minivan, his body later found smouldering in a gas station dumpster. Mendlowits declined to answer written questions for this article.

◾Former Chicago nursing home administrator David Meisels, 70, is listed as a director of a shell company called Harvester Developments, which owned 4 per cent of the Toronto tower. Since 2001, when he invested in the project, Meisels and his nursing home companies have been sued at least five times, including for allegedly failing to make staff welfare and pension contributions and for allegedly diverting money from public insurers — Medicare and Medicaid — to relatives and close associates. He has denied the claims and the cases were settled out of court. In 2010, federal authorities cut funding to one of his facilities, fearing that residents’ safety was at risk. Meisels and his son, Joseph, who Meisels said was also involved in the tower investment, have not responded to requests for comment.

◾London-based auto body shop owner Jacob Gross, 43, is co-director of Harvester Developments and the former head of an almost identically named company in the U.K., Harvester Investments Ltd, which has been purchasing small-scale real estate in and around London since the mid-1990s. He has also held leading roles in more than a dozen other small U.K. companies, most in local real estate and automotive repair.

◾Two more shell companies, Exeter Development Inc. and Haddar Development Corp., owned a collective 15-per-cent stake in the tower. The only name connected to them in public records is Joseph Teitelbaum, 43, a London, U.K., landlord, who was 27 years old at the time of the deal. Teitelbaum owns several million pounds’ worth of rental units through his interests in 42 companies registered in the U.K.. One of Teitelbaum’s companies defaulted on obligations to cover cost overruns for the Toronto tower and both were bought out in August 2011. Reached for comment, Teitelbaum denied personally investing any money in the Trump Tower and said he was a nominee signatory only. He would not name the investor he said he represented.

◾Little-known Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider, 49, would become the Toronto projects’ principal investor. Shnaider made his fortune in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s. In less than a decade, he went from mopping floors at his parents’ deli near Bathurst and Steeles Sts. to making hundreds of millions through the purchase of a Ukrainian steel mill. He then diversified into other industries like malls, convenience stores and electricity across Eastern Europe.

◾Toronto businessman Valery Levitan, 54, who worked with his father running a slot machine-repair service, owned a 12.5 per cent stake through a numbered Ontario corporation. Levitan, who convinced Shnaider to make his initial investment, also co-founded a company specializing in banknote validation technology for casinos. Levitan declined to comment.

The four foreign partners — Mendlowits, Meisels, Gross and Teitelbaum — made their investments through shell companies registered in New Brunswick.

“They had to have corporate entities to make the investments, but those corporations never carried on active businesses,” said Senderowitz, who helped set up the shell companies. “They were only incorporated for the purpose of owning ownership shares in this project.”

The only investor who agreed to speak on the record was Gross.

“I don’t know why this failed and so many other projects were successful,” Gross said. “It is mind boggling to us.”

Jacob Gross is a minority shareholder in the tower formerly known as the Trump International Hotel in Toronto. His stake and identity were only revealed when the tower’s development company, Talon, went bankrupt in October 2016.

Jacob Gross is a minority shareholder in the tower formerly known as the Trump International Hotel in Toronto. His stake and identity were only revealed when the tower’s development company, Talon, went bankrupt in October 2016.

At the Trump Organization, concerns over Waldman emerged almost immediately, said a source familiar with the deal.

“We quickly learned that Waldman was an empty suit. I recall one or two of his cheques bouncing,” said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the development. “He was difficult and disreputable to deal with.”

The Ritz-Carlton project collapsed in 2001 after the Star revealed Waldman was a wanted fugitive who had fled to Toronto from the U.S. after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement in 1995.

Waldman was detained for extradition, leaving everyone pointing fingers at each other.

“Neither the Ritz-Carlton nor the Trump Organization would have entered into this partnership if they had knowledge of this,” a senior Trump executive said in the aftermath of the Waldman revelations. “To some extent we were looking for the Ritz-Carlton to do due diligence.”


The Ritz-Carlton pulled out, leaving the minority investors, the architect, lawyers and engineers with unpaid invoices and little hope of seeing the plan come to fruition.


Trump remained convinced his brand would save the project.


“Having his name on a project brought great credibility to the project, particularly if the developer did not have a great track record,” said the source familiar with the project.


For a short while, Waldman continued to run the tower project from a jail cell in Etobicoke.


“I had to go to the Mimico detention centre to have him sign documents. I drew the short straw. I’d never been in a prison before,” said Senderowitz.


Contacted for comment in Israel, where he moved after serving his prison sentence in U.S., Waldman said: “There was the Toronto Star article and the project was getting some bad publicity. I removed myself.”


John Latimer, a former Toronto developer, was brought in to rescue the project. He called a meeting and told everyone: either you keep working for free in order to get this project off the ground, or you’ll never get paid anything.


“They wanted to keep this thing alive so they could get their money back,” Latimer said in an interview.


Zeidler, the tower’s architect, recalled being relieved.


“We are $270,000 in the hole, but at least the project is moving,” Zeidler wrote in his autobiography.


Alex Shnaider, left, agreed to become the main backer for Trump Tower Toronto, after the original developer was arrested and extradited to the U.S.


Alex Shnaider, left, agreed to become the main backer for Trump Tower Toronto, after the original developer was arrested and extradited to the U.S.


Shnaider steps up


Alex Shnaider, who had originally agreed to a smaller investment alongside the others, was persuaded to become the project’s main backer.


Shnaider initially agreed to a sit-down interview for this article but cancelled more than a month later. Instead, a Washington, D.C., public relations firm acted as a go-between, relaying written questions and answers.


On paper, Shnaider was a promising lead investor. He was wealthy, and despite his lack of condo and hotel experience, he was a business phenom.


Under the banner of the Midland Group, Shnaider built his sprawling business portfolio in the countries that had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. He started out in the early 1990s, working for Seabeco, a controversial investment firm run by his father-in-law, Boris Birshtein, who had links to powerful political figures in the former Soviet Union.


From there he expanded rapidly. By his early 30s, Shnaider — with his partner Eduard Shifrin, a Ukrainian businessman — was already co-owner of one of the largest steel mills in Ukraine. By 2001, they were able to acquire 93 per cent of the factory for the bargain-basement price of $70 million (U.S.), according to multiple media reports. Shnaider’s spokesperson challenges that figure, saying in a written statement that they paid “significantly” more.


In 2005, their stake had reportedly grown to be worth $1.2 billion.


Shnaider then diversified into industries as varied as Russian Formula One racing, Moscow shopping malls, Ukrainian convenience stores, an Israeli soccer team and the Armenian electricity grid. He was rewarded with hundreds of millions in profits. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.


Back home, Shnaider was living a life few Canadians can imagine.


In 2006, he bought a $4.3-million (Canadian) mansion in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood, which sold last year for $22 million. He travelled on a private jet and vacationed on his yacht, the 52-metre Midlandia.


Two years later, Shnaider’s former wife rented a hangar at Pearson International Airport to celebrate his 40th birthday, allowing their jet-setting guests to fly in and out for the party.


He would one up her for their daughter’s 16th birthday in 2013, hiring Justin Bieber to perform in a private concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario.


Alex Shnaider hired Justin Bieber to sing at his daughter’s Sweet Sixteen at the AGO.


Alex Shnaider hired Justin Bieber to sing at his daughter’s Sweet Sixteen at the AGO.


For all his wealth, Shnaider was virtually unknown in Toronto until he stepped into the limelight alongside Donald Trump in 2004 to launch pre-construction sales for their tower.


Three years later, wielding golden shovels, they broke ground side by side at a ceremony to mark the start of construction.


Financial documents, made public when Shnaider’s development company, Talon, went bankrupt, show his European bank financed the tower in a way no Canadian institution would; he hired his friend Levitan, the slot machine-repair businessman, to manage the construction and sales, and Levitan’s wife, Inna, to do the interior design; he allowed his sales director, Adina Zak, to sell units to herself and flip them to buyers at a profit.


Shnaider’s spokesperson denied he had a decision-making role in the tower.


“Mr. Shnaider did not have an executive role in this project and was not a developer — he was not involved in the sale of units,” she said.


Waldman had been the only one with any experience in tower development, and his departure left a team of condo rookies, as well as his son, Joseph, to whom he transferred his 11-per-cent stake in the tower. Levitan was put in charge of managing the construction and sales for the $500 million tower.


By all accounts hard-working, Levitan was in over his head.


“The trouble is, as nice and smart a guy as Val was, he didn’t really know the process,” said Latimer, the developer who briefly worked on the project.


But the lure of Trump’s wealth and success convinced the tower’s backers that they would succeed, said Senderowitz, the Toronto lawyer.


“They just wanted Trump’s star power to pull this off,” he said.


Teitelbaum, in particular, was convinced of its success, Latimer recalled.


“All he could see was the dollar signs ringing up. This was gonna be a big payday for him,” said Latimer. “Two years later he called me to ask if I’d buy a suite in the hotel. That made it seem like things were in trouble.”


Teitelbaum rejects this account, claiming he was never an investor.

• Trump vs Nordstrom: The latest bout raising ethical concerns • Trump lied about Obama in another wild news conference. Then he did the unexpected: Dale

Strange financing


Until now, the real ownership of the tower has been shrouded in secrecy.


Without ever providing details, Trump started telling reporters in 2001 that he had made a “substantial” investment in the Toronto tower. As late as 2007, Trump was publicly bragging about his supposedly savvy investment, which would have benefitted from the appreciating Canadian dollar.


“People are saying, ‘great play,’ but I actually didn’t mean to invest because of the dollar. I just ended up being a genius for all the wrong reasons,” Trump told the Star in 2007.


It wasn’t until 2011 that Talon disclosed Trump only had a contract to license out his name and manage the hotel.


“He showed up when they broke ground, did a press conference … and walked away,” said Senderowitz.


Levitan and Shnaider became the tower’s real salesmen, but their project was a tough sell on Bay St.


Levitan met with Canadian construction financiers in a series of meetings in 2006, according to sources.


“Everyone passed on it,” said one Toronto financier, who met with Levitan and turned him down.


Even though Shnaider was based in Toronto, the fact that virtually all his assets were overseas didn’t sit well with local lenders.


From left, Valery Levitan, Donald Trump and Alex Shnaider at the ceremonial ground-breaking for Trump Tower Toronto. Levitan went from running a slot machine repair company to overseeing the construction of a $500-million condo tower.


From left, Valery Levitan, Donald Trump and Alex Shnaider at the ceremonial ground-breaking for Trump Tower Toronto. Levitan went from running a slot machine repair company to overseeing the construction of a $500-million condo tower.


“We didn’t like the fact that it was an inexperienced developer coming from abroad,” said the financier, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted by his employer to discuss confidential financial matters. “If a loan goes into default, we have to go after the debtors. When they’re foreign, we can’t get their assets.”


In the end, the financing for the tower’s construction came from an Austrian bank, Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich, which had little experience in the North American market.


One of its only other projects on this side of the Atlantic was the Red Leaves resort in Muskoka, a project that also went bankrupt.


Raiffeisen, which invests heavily in the former Soviet republics and had financed several of Shnaider’s previous ventures, faced scrutiny about a decade ago when a deputy central banker in Moscow accused it of acting as a conduit for wealthy Russians to launder money abroad. Raiffeisen denied wrongdoing, according to news reports.


The bank declined to comment for this article.


Adam Powadiuk, director of commercial finance at First National Financial, a real-estate lender in Toronto, reviewed the tower’s financing agreement and said it contained many “wacky” elements that “amplify the risk in a significant way.”


Typically in Toronto, banks require developers to sell enough pre-construction units to cover the entire cost of a loan before any funds are released. Not so in this case.


Raiffeisen asked Talon to pre-sell $250 million in condos and hotel rooms — only about 80 per cent of the $310.5-million loan.


Talon didn’t even reach that lower bar.


While Shnaider publicly stated the tower had sold more than $250 million in units, the bankruptcy documents tell a different story. Based on purchasers’ deposits, it appears Talon only ever sold $218-million worth of units.


One investor, auto body shop owner Gross, said that the tower’s backers were aware construction started before enough units were sold.


“We knew,” Gross said in an interview. “We were hoping that time would be on our side.”


In public, the sales figure was constantly shifting.


Seventy five per cent of the units were sold, Shnaider said in 2007, shortly before groundbreaking. A few months later, Trump said the number was 70 per cent. By 2012, Talon was reporting 60 per cent were sold. The next year, the company admitted less than half the units had been bought.


In 2007, Shnaider announced he would buy for himself the tower’s $20-million, 12,000-square-foot “super penthouse” — Canada’s most expensive condo at the time. Public records show he never closed the deal. And Shnaider wasn’t the only buyer to back out.


According to Talon’s bankruptcy, the company only ever collected $108.3 million in unit sales — less than half of what it had said was sold and more than $200 million shy of what was needed to pay off the principal of the loan.


While revenue wasn’t coming in, construction costs were spiralling due to the exceptionally small building lot, design changes on the fly that would cut 13 storeys off the top of the planned 70-storey tower and eight months of delays caused by extreme weather.


Workers on roof of Trump Towers taken from 68th floor of BMO building, November 1, 2012.


Workers on roof of Trump Towers taken from 68th floor of BMO building, November 1, 2012.


When Talon maxed out the bank loan, the investors had to come up with another $106 million to cover the tower’s completion, bankruptcy records show.


The minority investors contributed at first but eventually, Shnaider was paying for everything out of his own pocket.


At the same time, records from the Panama Papers leak show Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the Ukrainian steel mill to a VEB, a bank controlled by the Kremlin. They received $850 million (U.S.). Shnaider’s lawyer initially told the Wall Street Journal that $15 million of that money went to cover cost overruns at the Trump Tower. He later told the New York Timesthat none of the sales proceeds were used to cover costs in Toronto.


Even once the tower was complete, few people wanted to buy in.


Typically, banks intervene quickly when sales stall in an effort to protect their investments, real estate experts say. They bring in their own sales and marketing teams; they might even bring in contractors to finish construction.


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But between 2008 and 2013 — the depth of the global financial crisis — the Austrian bank pushed back the repayment deadlines 12 times, according to bankruptcy records, waiting for sales to materialize. The tower was built, but it sat three-quarters empty, hemorrhaging money just to keep the lights on.


When Talon finally declared bankruptcy last year — nine years after taking out the construction loan — it still owed Raiffeisen $301 million on the $310 million it borrowed, bankruptcy records show.


Powadiuk called that level of outstanding debt “enormous” and “very strange” in the Canadian context.


“I can’t picture a scenario, the way that most lenders in Canada do these things, where you end up with that kind of chain of events,” Powadiuk said.


An empty grand opening


The tower’s lavish ribbon cutting — originally planned for September 2010 — didn’t take place until April 2012.


The pomp and ceremony included Trump and his children, each with a pair of golden scissors, surrounded by models, alongside then mayor Rob Ford bearing a wide smile.


As dignitaries and Toronto’s most powerful businesspeople gathered to fete the project’s success, the tower’s failure was likely already sealed.


Another five-star hotel, a new Ritz-Carleton, had just opened in Toronto and a second, the Shangri-La, was about to do so. Trump’s decade-old project looked stale by comparison.


“This one was dragging on and suddenly it has a bad smell,” said Latimer.


Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and Donald Trump celebrated during the April 2012 ribbon cutting ceremony for Trump Tower. Five years later, the tower sits three-quarters empty.

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and Donald Trump celebrated during the April 2012 ribbon cutting ceremony for Trump Tower. Five years later, the tower sits three-quarters empty.


After the hotel opened its doors, too many rooms sat empty. Hotel room purchasers were hit with thousands of dollars of additional fees and commercial property tax. One disappointed buyer tried to auction off his condo, but no one met the minimum bid. Several unit owners sued Shnaider’s company for misrepresenting their projected profits and a judge ordered one buyer’s deposit returned. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of other buyers is pending in Superior Court.


When business didn’t pick up, Talon publicly clashed with Trump, blaming the future president’s people for mismanaging the hotel. The president’s organization filed a legal motion to prevent the termination of its licensing agreement, alleging Talon was plotting to sell the remaining units and walk away. The motion was shelved.


One thing was now clear: Trump’s brand offered no guarantee of success.


“(Trump) wasn’t hands on,” said Senderowitz. “He just delegated everything. His own management style was literally chaotic.”


Everyone was losing money, including Shnaider.


“Mr. Shnaider lost more money on the Trump Tower Project than anyone else,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “Mr. Shnaider had high hopes for the project and wanted it to succeed. These hopes were not realized.


“The project was unsuccessful, in Mr. Shnaider’s opinion, because of the global financial crisis and its effect on buyers’ and potential buyers’ ability to close or obtain funding to close, and because of inexperienced management.”


In the end, the tower and every investor’s stake in it went to JCF Capital, which had bought the tower’s debt and paid the Trump Organization to exit its licensing agreement in June. Two days later, JCF sold the hotel to InnVest, a major Canadian hotel operator. The 74 unsold condos are now back on the market, being offered under the St. Regis brand.


The total amount of money Trump received from the failed Toronto project is unclear.


Public financial disclosure documents filed by Trump in the U.S. show he collected $1.7 million (U.S.) in management fees from the Toronto project between 2014 and 2016. Walking away from the deal brought Trump’s organization a further payout of at least $6 million (Canadian), according to a 2017 Bloomberg report citing an inside source.


Requests for comment from The Trump Organization went unanswered.


“I don’t know why it failed. It’s a mystery to me,” said the source familiar with the project. “The only thing I can really conclude is the Trump brand didn’t have popularity in Toronto.”


Donald Trump’s name was removed from the tower in August 2017. All that remains of his name are a few plaques adorning the building’s street-level facade.


Donald Trump’s name was removed from the tower in August 2017. All that remains of his name are a few plaques adorning the building’s street-level facade.


The five letters at the top of the tower came down this summer, amid global headlines and downtown rubbernecking. The hotel has been temporarily renamed the Adelaide in anticipation of a full rebranding next year.


All that remains of Trump’s name now are a few plaques adorning the building’s street-level facade. They’ve been covered with a silver film that doesn’t quite hide the infamous moniker.


Shnaider and the minority investors have dispersed. No one wants to have anything to do with Trump anymore. Even Shnaider, who heavily promoted the tower, now wants to distance himself from its namesake.


“Mr. Shnaider and Mr. Trump met a total of four times in person,” reads a written statement from Shnaider’s spokesperson. “The two did not discuss substantive business issues. They do not have any ongoing relationship.”


With files from Asaf Shalev


Columbia Journalism Investigations. CJI is a team of leading investigative journalists, Columbia University faculty, graduate students, postgraduate fellows, coders and others who conduct deep investigations into urgent issues of public interest, without respect to beat. Funding is provided by the Graduate School of Journalism.

Written by: My Toronto on October 29, 2017

As anyone who lives in Toronto knows, the condo has taken more from the city than it’s given. The economics of building, not to mention the culture of industrial development, civic planning and municipal politics, have left us more focused on minimum requirements than maximum expectations. We have carefully created a system that leads to urban and architectural ordinariness. And on those rare occasions when developers are willing to do more than they must, it’s because they’re chasing luxury buyers.

The idea that the approving and building of condos could be approached as an act of city-building has been all but forgotten in the rush to cash in on the boom. That’s why the appearance of The Plant, a 10-storey condo at Dovercourt and Sudbury Sts., is especially interesting. It may even mark a turning point, though that’s probably overly optimistic, if not downright naive.

Still, the project stands out from the competition in a number of important ways. To begin with, it takes retail seriously. In most condos, of course, the street-level shopping rarely goes beyond the standard-issue Shoppers Drug Mart, Tim Hortons or bank branch. Developers prefer these sorts of tenants not only because they can sign a lease years in advance, but also because they have the sort of deep pockets that make a banker’s eyes light up.

Then there are construction concerns. The easiest — and cheapest — method is to fill the ground floor with load-bearing sheer walls that leave little room for flexibility. Because this isn’t conducive to fine-grained retail, developers make spaces large to suit the needs of large global chains.

The results have been deadly; Toronto is becoming a retail desert. Lined with the usual outlets, its streets are more generic, anonymous and boring than ever.

By contrast, The Plant is designed specifically for small — read local — retailers. Focused on sustainability, healthy living and urban agriculture, this mixed-use project features relatively large units and balconies big enough to make growing your own food possible. Then there’s the communal kitchen and greenhouse; clearly this is a condo aimed at people looking for something different. It may not meet everyone’s tastes, but The Plant sold out in weeks.

“People want to live in a healthy place,” says Alex Spiegel, partner at Windmill Developments, which, with Curated Properties, is behind the building. “People want a comfortable, well designed place. And if it’s sustainable, that’s great too.”

Curated Properties has experience building in the Queen West neighbourhood; Windmill has a background in commercial development. Between them, they believe they have the ability to bring a retail mix that goes beyond the same old, same old.

By Christopher Hume Urban Issues and Architecture