“I like the job, why wouldn't I run?” he replied to an enquiry by reporter Adrian Humphreys about his intentions.
And he's very good at some of it.
Joe Fontana likes the glad-handing and the cheer-leading. He's not the most articulate mayor London has ever had, but his enthusiasm for public events—cutting cakes and ribbons—is undeniable. Still, of late his reception appears somewhat strained. Being Londoners, guests at these events are generally polite but increasingly meaningful glances are exchanged along with sotto voce comments.
But last week he had a bit of good news. An old friend, Tony Basca, had failed to convince a superior court judge in Milton that, when Joe Fontana had promised him that he would get paid for the work he had been doing for GPEC Global in Romania, it was a personal commitment. The judge doubted that our mayor would have done such a thing, promise to personally be good for the money owed by the waste to energy company where Fontana chaired the management team. He ruled in favour of Fontana and dismissed the case, leaving the parties to sort out the matter of covering the costs of the civil suit.
Perhaps Basca was naive to think that he could count on the mayor's friendship or the alleged Christian principles of the company he helped create. GPEC Global apparently raised quite a few dollars from unsuspecting investors but the touted overseas projects and their economic spinoffs never actually materialized. Fontana claims that he, himself, was paid for only a few months before the money ran out. How on earth could he pay Tony?
And what has any of this to do with his job as mayor of the city of London? According to an earlier statement by Fontana, he should only be judged by his work for the city, not his personal life.
Fontana sought the mayoralty promising fiscal responsibility and jobs. He would put London on the map. London, under his stewardship, would thrive and grow. It would be the city of opportunity.
But when Londoners narrowly chose Fontana over Anne-Marie DeCicco-Best in 2010, they did so with little knowledge or discussion of Fontana's qualifications for the job. Sure, he had been an MP for many years which should have given him some contacts to draw on, but the Liberals were no longer in power having suffered greatly from entitlement scandals, and the new in-group in Ottawa wasn't so friendly. What he had been up to since leaving Ottawa in 2006 and the election of 2010 did not draw much scrutiny.
It turns out that Fontana had been a rather busy boy during those four years. He looked up some old friends, made some new ones and quickly became immersed in setting up a number of companies, primarily related to energy. Doing so involved a fair amount of international travel.
One of his encounters was close to home, however. His partnership in Allus Power with Robert Vanier, a neighbour, soured when Fontana's company car was towed out of his driveway for nonpayment of the lease. Vanier was later found to have a long criminal record with ties to organized crime.
Fontana continued his involvement in energy, becoming chairperson of the board of Green Power Enviro Corp (GPEC) which was being promoted as a business based on Christian principles. Following the failed mission in Romania—apparently neither the available money nor the technology was sufficient to get the project off the ground—the company seems not to have been able to find another gig. It still has a minimal presence on the internet but the address given is listed as for lease, available immediately. KMW, the London Company whose technology GPEC Global was planning to use for its waste to energy plants, likewise is maintaining a low profile, with no indication of any activity in the energy field for some time.
Fontana also brought Omniwatt, a German company specializing in solar and wind projects, to London and became its Canadian director. Together with Todd Gillick's Synergy+Energy Solutions, Omniwatt managed to scoop up $800,000 in donations from individuals and grants from the provincial and federal governments to install solar panels on the roof of the Boys and Girls club without the benefit of a tender. It probably didn't hurt that Gillick was treasurer of the Boys and Girls Club at the time although he left that position when it was learned that he had been reprimanded and fined by the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada for forging signatures on a will. Still, Fontana engaged him to handle the financial aspects of his mayoral campaign and made him co-chair of his economic prosperity council when he became mayor. Gillick is currently a members of the Mayor's Sustainable Energy Council.
While all this was going on, Fontana was becoming involved in the charity business with yet another friend, this time one that dated from his childhood in Timmins. Vince Ciccone had set up Trinity Global Support Foundation in 2007 and the following year invited Fontana to help manage it. With the aid of a couple of tax shelters and Fontana's son to manage it, Trinity was soon issuing hugely inflated tax receipts, making it Canada's largest charity by far until the Canada Revenue Agency pulled the plug a couple of months ago. To date, Fontana has been unable to explain how the operations of the charity could be regarded as legitimate although he continues to insist that it fed thousands of hungry kids in Canada and saved thousands of lives of AIDS victims in third world countries. Ciccone, in the meantime, was found to have run afoul of the Ontario Securities Commission and his business, in which Trinity had invested millions of dollars, went belly up.
And finally, there is the story that everyone can understand, the simple tale of the wedding reception for Fontana's son which was billed to the taxpayer. For that, Fontana is facing criminal charges. He seems confident that he will be found, if not innocent, at least not guilty. In the eyes of his lawyer, it's the same thing. And that will clear the decks for another run.
In the meantime, there is still the matter of the backroom meeting at Billy T's. Just a matter of coincidence, mind you, that seven members of council all turned up on a Saturday afternoon the weekend before the final budget vote, in the private backroom of an out of the way restaurant which, while serving up a good, reasonably priced meal, is hardly a destination place. And some entered through the back door. All members of Fontana's 8. There will be no negotiating who pays the legal bills for dealing with the ombudsman's questions about that rendez-vous. C'est tu.
So Fontana may run again If so, how will he fare?
The last time he presented himself to the voters his integrity went unquestioned and his past behaviour unscrutinized. This time around, he won't have that protection.
And the voters won't have that excuse.