Bovaird House – Friends with benefits

Brampton’s entire non-profit sector was thrown under the bus recently at a city budget meeting when Councillor Jeff Bowman implied that “regular not-for profit groups” don’t do anything or contribute to the city in any way. Bowman was advocating his support on behalf of a non-profit group called Friends of Historic Bovaird House (FHBH) and the allocation of $1 million towards the construction of a controversial 640 square feet barn on city property. A recent report from the city shows that Bowman’s support for FHBH and the organization itself is certainly not “regular”, with the organization receiving benefits that most other organizations in the non-profit sector could only dream of.

Ward 3/4 City Councillor Disparages Non-Profit Groups in effort to promote Friends of Historic Bovaird House

The city report reveals twenty years of preferential treatment for FHBH that includes paying for bank fees, paying for newsletters and mailing costs, to spending over $1.5M on capital improvements plus an additional $300K in operating costs. All of these benefits contradict statements from FHBH and Councillor Bowman implying that the Bovaird House property has been operating at no cost to the City of Brampton.

Bowman was successful during the 2022 budget process in getting five councillors to agree to allocate $500K in 2022 and another $500k in 2023 without a public consultation process.

Bowman repeatedly refers to the Bovaird House as a museum, however, the property has no credentials and FHBH has never qualified for grants or funding from outside of the city over the past 20 years. Bowman’s only argument for funding is the volunteer hours that FHBH has invested in the property . Bowman says that “this isn’t like giving money to a not for profit agency, this is building something on city property that’s going to become part of a heritage site, that gets people visiting it all the time, that’s totally run by volunteers, that doesn’t cost the city anything.”

At the budget deliberation meetings, Ward 2/6 Regional Councillor Michael Palleschi said “that is a lot of money, to house…old tractors.”

Ward 1/5 Regional Councillor Rowena Santos said that “it is irresponsible for us to be allocating money in a situation, where we are currently in negotiations with an organization, and updating an agreement.” The agreement Santos is referring to is a Terms of Reference with organizations which details funding arrangements and responsibilities. The City and FHBH last established this type of arrangement in 2002.

Santos said “giving $500,000 to an initiative of FHBH, which does not have any flexibility to allow other uses of the barn restoration compared to all the other non-profits in the City of Brampton, who have to apply to a very rigorous, transparent and accountable granting program to access a fraction of $500,000 is unfair. It’s completely unfair. I also don’t know what the rush is in constructing it. We’re in the midst of pandemic, right now, we have so many different priorities, and we’re looking at potentially going into debt, on something Councillor Bowman seems to be rushing through. I don’t understand it.”

A motion by Councillor Palleschi to refer the delegation by FHBH to staff for further consideration, and an amendment by Councillor Santos to only assign funding after council receives an approved partnership agreement with FHBH and the completion of a strategic plan for the site was denied by a vote of 5 to 6.

The Friends of Historic Bovaird House is a Brampton non-profit volunteer organization that was founded in 1992 and has operated the Bovaird site for the last 30 years. Since 2002 there has been no formal agreement with FHBH and under the Terms of Reference there was no requirement for this group to provide financial statements to the city. All other non-profits require a program application, close-out reports as well as financial statements upon completion of funded projects.

FHBH was asked to comment on the staff report from the city and did not respond.

There are many other troubling items in the report, including:

  • Undocumented room rental revenue, even though this revenue was to be reported annually and a profit-sharing agreement was in place.
  • FHBH prints a newsletter in the Spring and Fall using a printing company in Orangeville, and the city is invoiced for the cost, with the Rose Theatre providing envelopes, postage and labor.
  • The Pendergast Cabin was funded through reserves and not in the budget line items. Items for the Bovaird House including assets and projects have not shown up in budget. (If it is not in the budget, it cannot be seen by the public).
  • It is unclear how decisions were made using city labor, resources and financial support with no accountability or traceability of who directed staff to proceed.

Why does FHBH continue to receive preferential treatment compared to all other non-profit groups in the city that abide by transparency and accountability? The City report says that “staff was advised to keep them [FHBH] happy” as they are “a vocal group who will not hesitate to contact City Councillors.” This report is a troubling account of a group that apparently feels entitled and has no compunction to intimidate council through direct lobbying to individual Councillors if they don’t get their way.

This barn debacle is far from over as city staff is expected to release a report on the status and cost of reconstructing the barn on the Bovaird House property to building standards that allow access by the public.