Vaughan city staff took 'courage' to denounce Coun. Michael Di Biase, ethics czar says

City staff in Vaughan have shown great courage in exposing the intimidation and abuse detailed in a preliminary report into their deputy mayor and his links to a construction company, according to its author.

Veteran politician decries investigation into him as 'abuse of process'

Vaughan controversy

6 years ago
Vaughan's integrity commissioner has released a report condemning the conduct of Michael Di Biase, a regional councillor and the city's deputy mayor. 2:50

City staff in Vaughan have shown great courage in exposing the intimidation and abuse detailed in a preliminary report into their deputy mayor and his links to a construction company, according to its author.

The report, from the city's integrity commissioner, found Regional Councillor and Deputy Mayor Michael Di Biase violated the municipal code of conduct by swearing at and bullying city staff who wouldn't hand over confidential details about bids for city work.

Di Biase also emailed confidential city information to an outside source, who replied with paragraphs that Di Biase passed off verbatim as his own in emails to fellow councillors and municipal staff amid an argument over bidding processes, the report says.

The veteran politician appears to have done it "with a view to exercising influence or assisting" Maystar General Contractors, a construction company that has done extensive business with the city, Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig found. Her report makes no findings or comments about the company itself.

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"This report is about the people who work at the City of Vaughan who want to do the right thing," Craig said in an interview Monday, praising the "integrity" and "courage" of municipal staff.

"They want to operate in a sphere of honesty."

Craig's report says she talked to more than 30 people, including two senior bureaucrats who, as of February, no longer have their jobs. All of them spoke to her voluntarily, her report says.

Some of their comments in the report describe a deputy mayor who would occasionally swear at staff or tell them to "stop wasting time and don't be a trouble maker" when they told him that there were processes that had to be followed on public tenders.

One staff person is quoted relating how Di Biase approached them to find out why Maystar hadn't pre-qualified to bid on a particular contract. "You have to be f—king kidding me. They have to pre-qualify," the staffer recalled Di Biase saying, according to the report.

Another city employee mentioned in the report recalled being asked by Di Biase for the results of a pre-tender evaluation of potential bidders. "I said the results were not ready, and he said, 'Send me the result in an envelope to my office, not by email, and take care of my guys,' " the worker told the integrity commissioner.

In a separate case, three members of the Vaughan public library board all reported Di Biase telling them to "just give the job to Maystar" during a closed-door debate over a procurement matter, Craig's report found.

CBC investigation

The probe was prompted by a complaint based on a CBC investigation last fall, which detailed allegations that personnel from Maystar, a major Vaughan construction company that has received more than $150 million in business from the city since 2002, appeared to be helping build Di Biase's family cottage.

The integrity commissioner did not investigate that allegation, saying that it could be a criminal matter and so is up to police to look into.

Di Biase has strongly denied Maystar was involved in the cottage construction. And his lawyer on Monday denounced the integrity commissioner's investigation, calling it an "abuse of process" and saying Craig was biased and used "illegal" methods to obtain the councillor's emails.

"Your conclusion [is] wrong in fact and law," Di Biase's lawyer says in a letter to Craig, published on the City of Vaughan's website.

"Unfortunately, you withheld all of the information and documents he needed to defend himself and to rebut these false allegations that you relied on."

At city hall on Tuesday, Craig detailed how she got to her findings.

Vaughan's council will consider the matter at a later date, at which point the integrity commissioner may make recommendations that could include suspending Di Biase's pay for a maximum of three months.

Di Biase has been a regional councillor in Vaughan for 18 of the last 26 years, and served as mayor from 2002 to 2006.

Reached Monday night, he declined to comment beyond what his lawyer already stated.

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Voted on contracts

Michael Di Biase has been a regional councillor in Vaughan, Ont., for 18 of the last 26 years, serving on city council and also in the wider York Region's assembly. He was mayor from 2002 to 2006 and is currently deputy mayor.

During the previous council term, he voted or participated in debates on at least five matters affecting Maystar General Contractors, the company he is alleged to have been "exercising influence or assisting" behind the scenes at city hall, according to a report from Vaughan's integrity commissioner.

  • At a December 2010 council meeting, Di Biase brought a successful motion that, among other things, ratified the choice of Maystar for a $4-million contract to build a new fire hall.
  • At a council meeting in January 2011, he brought a motion that authorized paying Maystar $3 million in construction cost overruns for Vaughan's new city hall.
  • At a special closed session on April 8, 2013, he voted in favour of settling a lawsuit brought by Maystar over the city hall. The city paid out $17.1 million.
  • At an October 2013 meeting of the Vaughan library board, on which he sits, Di Biase brought a successful motion to recommend that Maystar get the contract to build a new $2.9-million library. He later also voted in favour at city council.

In all these cases, Di Biase cast his votes in accordance with the advice of municipal staff. 

Source: CBC research

Integrity commissioner's report

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