Corriere Canadese

TORONTO - The signing and ceremonies done, planning for the next phase is beginning in earnest. From the Italian side, they have already begun to [re]define themselves. They are framing the next phase in terminology designed to focus on the values inherent in Basilicata culture. 

They need to convince Lucani (Domestic and Diaspora) of the transferability and merits of those values in a modern, fast-paced, globalized – and often indifferent to “societal” values – immediate “return on investment”, individual centred culture.
So, the theme captured by “art through artisanship” seems apt from their point of view. Matera is intent on promoting and exporting its historical, cultural expertise, engineering uniqueness and architectural competencies abroad.  Centuries of foreign occupation and administration have sculpted constraints on a people whose history reveals a thirst for “creative perfectionism”, and practical solutions for geological and topographical obstacles.
Despite the centuries-old “foreign administrations” they have produced enviable works of art to adorn churches and other public spaces. They are only now beginning to peel back the “veil of neglect” which until recently hid a prodigious understanding of biology and chemistry required for producing enduring works whose lucidity would defy the ravages of Time.
The people in the Municipal district of Matera are beginning to seize the moment. They are embarking upon were a renaissance of restoration that reveals pride in their own accomplishments and a realization that culture can be a source of economic activity that reawakens the creative, competitive spirit of a once international centre of learning, governance quality products and commerce.
From perspective of Toronto’s artistic community development, there is a never-ending reservoir of opportunity to practice their skills under the guidance of Masters resident in Matera, surrounding municipalities like Ferrandina, Montescaglioso or Palazzo San Gervasio.
Their Mayors revel in outlining the material available in the churches, monasteries, chapels and even caves, yes caves, whose living and habitat conditions must be seen to be believed. The entrepreneurial and political classes are combining to put out the welcome mat expat Lucani interested in bringing acquired expertise, financial know how and commercial networks back to Basilicata. 
The partnerships are there to explore, develop and consummate. Already, local entrepreneurs (individually and collectively through their professional organizations) are joining the artistic community to showcase what they can offer for distribution/investment in North America through such partnerships.
The Toronto delegation, lead by an economics professor, Frank Miele, whose background is also public administration, has already received submissions of preliminary projects from small and mid-sized businesses in the agri-food industries. Producers of Wines, Olive Oils and Cheese products were already making their case, so to speak.
What seemed to surprise Vince Crisanti and George Spezza from Toronto and their Federal counterparts, the Hon. Judy Sgro and MP Francesco Sorbara, was the growing list of large-scale manufacturers in bakery, digital products and environmental industries anxious to seek out partnerships to help them go the next step. 
The Basilicata team, which is coalescing around Michele Grieco’s guidance and that of his able and equally committed visionary, Mario Salluzi from Palazzo San Gervasio, is committed to cutting the barrier of red tape and myopia that has kept Lucani from knowing, appreciating, their past and realizing their potential in the future.
A mutually beneficial partnership with a forward-looking Toronto just may just help them build for “a future built on the confidence flowing from recognizing achievements of excellence in the past”; this is their motto. There is room in their plan for experts in the creative Arts, consumer products, the social economy, Tourism, Transportation and so on.
Toronto could have a less committed team to work with. But then what would be the point? October’s signing will be here faster than one thinks and they are developing a delegation of interested partners to whet Toronto’
MATERA - The keys to successful enterprise require as a base some essential ingredients: vision, ambition, content, a network, a human resources infrastructure, know-how, financing and “project managers”- people who will get things done.
As per yesterday’s first article, it appears that Toronto and Matera have at least chosen the right people to “manage” the Twinning project. These are George Spezza, Director for Economic Development and Business Growth Services for the City of Toronto, and his counterpart in Matera, Michele Grieco, “Delegate [plenipotentiary]” of City Council and Mayor De Ruggieri.
The two seemed to revel in the prospect of turning the Twining into an energetic plan to ensure the “flowering” of an idea founded the strengths of what the two Municipalities can turn to mutual benefit in what Toronto Deputy Mayor, Vincent Crisanti, described as a “partnership”.
No nonsense, yet deferential and purposeful in his approach, Councillor Crisanti has been the ideal “face of Toronto”. Materani seemed genuinely impressed by his “presence” and his willingness to call upon Spezza to address the minutest of details on the spot. He was “managerial” without being intrusive. Explorative in his questions on operational issues and creative in questions related to the economic infrastructure of enterprises and their managerial culture, he involved the members of the Basilicata Cultural Society in helping construct the bridge between the culture of Matera and the one in which Torontonians live.
Frank Miele, the Torontonian – himself a “Lucano” - tasked by the Basilicata Cultural Society to “navigate” the application and the co-ordination of both the project and its outcomes brought his administrative and “professorial perspective” to bear as a link to connect individual prospects to common themes that guide the project. He too works well with Vincent Crisanti.
Before the day of the Signing was over, this combination had already begun the process of linking real and serious proposals for development with at least three enterprises desirous of co-operation with a Toronto “partnership”. Impressive because the interest came from the agri-product, manufacturing, hi-tech and heavy industry sectors. 
What may further “tickle the fancy” of Torontonians looking for investment opportunities abroad are the enormous infrastructure investments that Europe and Italy will pour into the region (a combined 8 billion Euros)in order to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the designation of Matera as the Cultural Capital of Europe, 2019.
There are at least $50 million available to the restorative and creative arts. They are looking for Foreign Direct Investors to partner on projects specific to peeling back the veil that has covered the prodigious artistic, artisanal works that characterize Matera and Basilicata. Those restoration projects are linked to upgrading long-term cultural and tourism strategies that target Return on Investments aiming to satisfy short term requirements and nurture quality returns in the longer term.
Michele Grieco teamed up with some enlightened Mayors from neighbouring municipalities to highlight some of the priority opportunities with exploratory in situ visits. 
Aside from the fact that each was impressive in their own right, the exercise served to underscore that Mr Grieco will serve as the operational nexus for the Canada- Italy partnership. 
One closing mention of the contribution by the “informal” Committee of the Basilicata Diaspora (represented by Manny Di Lecce, Antonio Locantore, Dan Montesano, Paolo Petrozza, Sam Primucci and Pat Tremamunno – the initiators of the “twinning”). These Canadians provide an informal, behind-the-scenes, “oversight and screening” reference point for any thorough “due diligence”. 
In October, all of these elements revert to Toronto for the second leg of the Signing of the Protocol. From that point, the “rubber will hit the road”.
 
TORONTO - No one will ever accuse Italians of lacking in rhetoric or for having a flair for high drama and brinkmanship. On the eve of the arrival of of the Canadian delegation in Matera for the first leg of the “official signing ceremony” twinning the City of Toronto and the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019, the Matera Executive Council (la Giunta) was subject to “resignations and reconstitution” – thus putting at risk months of hard work by teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
Happily, literally twenty minutes before the scheduled ceremony in Matera’s Council Chambers, a “reconstituted” Giunta, with re-confirmed delegates dedicated to the project, emerged from a closed-door meeting while unsuspecting Canadians waited anxiously for Mayor Raffaele De Ruggieri to emerge.
 The “point man”, Michele Grieco, a former Executive Councillor and now the Lead for the Project, was confirmed as the Mayor’s “plenipotentiary delegate” for the Twinning Project. It was he who, uncharacteristically, kicked off the ceremonies.
Good choice. From there, all intervenors focused on restating themes, principles and objectives.
Mayor De Ruggieri wanted to restate that Materani were committed to making this Twinning become more than a simple public relations exercise and that the project should be founded on concrete economic objectives. For him and his “new team”, Matera is a test centre, an incubator for the economy of tomorrow.
As proof, for him, Matera had just hosted part of the G-7 Meeting reserved for planning by, and   dedicated to, Ministers of Trade, Economic Development and Finance. He listed personalities of substance in Economic Affairs, the Arts and Politics who have in recent months visited and been impressed by the activity and the potential of his city. “Matera is rebranding Italy”, he said. It is a place where entrepreneurs can expect a good return on investment.
Matera is one of 5 Italian test centres for 5G fibre capacity. By next year 70% of its territory will be at 5G capacity, giving it a great competitive advantage when the European markets open up for this next generation communications system in 2020.
“Our model for growth is based on giving value to achievements of the past by restoring our artistic and artisanal capacities, growing our Tourism potential our Cultural Industries and stimulating investments in the economy of tomorrow”, he pronounced. The executive of the federation of businesses, Senator Bubbico, the mayors of adjacents towns that will host the Canadian Delegation over the course of the week – Ferrandina, Montescaglioso, Palazzo San Gervasio, Monticchio Volture and Pescopagno – were also present to bear testimony to what is a collaborate effort by the entire Region of Basilicata.
The Canadian, Toronto, delegation would not be outdone in its commitment. Deputy Mayor, Vincent Crisanti, accompanied by the Director for Economic Development, George Spezza, pointed out the advantages to a partnership with Toronto. It is a living dynamic in cultural and economic terms: 4th largest city in North America; 140 000 businesses spanning the full spectrum of economic activity; 190 language groups call it home; an “efficient” business sensitive government; a cultural industry whose value increased by 50% last year to exceed $2 billion in activity and an economic engine generating 20% of Canada’s economy. An Ideal partner for Matera.
Two MPs, Judy Sgro and Francesco Sorbara drove home the point, from a Canadian perspective. Italy and Canada exemplify one of the world’s most successful bilateral relationships with over $10 billion in two way trade annually, and prepared to do much more, according to MP Sorbara whose background is Finance and Investment Capital.
The Hon. Judy Sgro highlighted the historical value of the Human Resources component of that relationship: over 1.5 million Canadians of Italian origin whose successes in Canada are an indicator of the welcoming nature of our environment and the ability to obtain a return on investment economically and socially.
Both MPs dutifully acknowledged that the pantheon of celebrities invited to the ceremonies who made possibile the twinning: Maro Soluzzi, Raffaella Piarulli, Mario Romanelli from the Italian side and, from Canada, Pat Tremamunno, Paolo Petrozza, Dan Montesano, Frank Miele, Sam Primucci, Antonio Locantore, Corrado Paina and Filippo Gravina.
The Delegation then moved on immediately to a series of visitations to enterprises in the cultural, manufacturing and hi-Tech sectors already interested in establishing mutually beneficial rapports with Canadian counterparts. 
George Spezza and Michele Grieco, the bureaucratic, operating component of the project,  are going to be busy if the experiment is to succeed.
 
Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher
 
Money and the allure of acquiring more of it sometimes distorts vision and focus. It tests friendships, nurtures divisions, feeds the fires of unbridled self-interest and promotes language and vocabulary that blurs the line between “spin” and “fact”.
 
The proposed project envisioned by a private, for-profit developer that goes by the name of Villa Charities Inc (VCI) has an estimated retail market value of 1.2 to 1.5 billion dollars measured in today’s residential real estate market. 
 
It’s unclear how the development of the properties held in trust for the community by a charitable not for profit organization could accomplish this without demolishing a building on Dufferin Street owned by the Daughters of St Paul or tearing down the church, St Charles Borromeo, or the Columbus Centre.
 
The ever-inventive Board of the community-minded Villa Charities were gifted with a potential partner (the Toronto Catholic District School Board) that would afford them public acquiescence, if not support, once both the Daughters of St. and the Cardinal proffered a “no thank you”.
 
The new partnership touted a shared-use facility to replace Dante Alighieri Academy and Columbus Centre, two icons now described variously as “unsuitable”, “dilapidated”, “old, worn down” and downright “decrepit”.
 
The first was built in 1975 and expanded twice since then. The latter, a structure that assumed its current shape only in 1980.
 
In 2011, the Ministry of Education “approved $32.8 million for a replacement school for Dante … as well as approval to enter into a shared-space partnership with VC for an educational and cultural arts facility…” The need, so the argument went, was urgent.
 
That was six years ago. TCDSB website and sources both indicate an enrollment decline at Dante of about 33%. A new facility projected by the TCDSB foresees accommodation for only 950 students, as opposed to the 1400 registered when circumstances were urgent.
 
Meanwhile, community and political hesitation as reached a deafening roar. In a letter dated June 16, 2017, the Minister, reminded the TCDSB that it “will require approval from the Ministry in order for the project to proceed to tender.” In the intervening six years since the first indication of the availability of the money on an “urgent” basis, the Board “has yet to seek such approval”, writes the Minister. Why not?
 
For greater clarity, the Minister advises that several concerns brought to her attention need to be addressed “before approval to proceed to tender is submitted”. TCDSB (represented by the soon to retire director, her recently appointed replacement and the Associate Director for the Plant and Business matters at the Board) met with VCI board members on June 20, 2017.
 
According to some present, the meeting prompted some blunt and “vigorous” debate. In the end, the TCDSB, notwithstanding the letter and the political firestorm in which it is embroiling itself, decided to “hunker down” and go along with the VCI appeal to the OMB. Why?
 

TCDSB, Villa Charities: Institutional Arrogance and Life’s ironies

Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher
 
One sometimes wonders about the value attributed to some of these locally-elected Boards, Institutions or “mini governments”. They are supposed to be responsible and accessible to very local or task specific goals – therefore very democratic and transparent.
If the meeting of the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) held June 15 is any indication, it goes a long way to explaining why successive Provincial governments have been openly musing (and threatening) about the desirability for One, single Board of Education. Or, at the very least, combining public and separate schools under one roof.
But first, let me acknowledge that there are many decent, dedicated and upright individuals who consider community service and careers in education as a vocation, not simply as a job. The TCDSB rightly recognized some that night. How it handles urgent and pressing matters that weigh on its mandate is a little less clear.
One delegation came forward with what it claimed was documented evidence of racial discrimination in a specific school, committed by none other than a staff member. A similar situation earlier in the year at the York Region School Board (YRSB) prompted Ministry inspectors, public protests, resignations and lawsuits or threats thereof.
The Chair in this instance advised the delegate not to name individuals or to provide any telling indicators that might reveal identities. The Board proceeded to “receive and refer” [to Staff for further study and subsequent report back]. When? No earlier than next September. Maybe it doesn’t carry the same weight as the incident at the YRSB. 
Another delegation was perplexed at the fashion in which decisions had been reached in respect of a family of schools when Staff reports had never mentioned the option chosen – one seemingly contrived and selected after the Board had voted in favour of another.
The delegation, dismayed and disappointed, wondered, understandably, whether the appropriate recusal had been exercised by the local trustee whose economic interests may have been potentially enhanced by the decision. The Chair cautioned the delegate against identifying the subject of the veiled allegation. The Trustee was in the room.
Again, the matter was voted “received and referred”. The TCDSB seemed unfazed by the fact that last year their co-terminus Board, the TDSB, had experienced internal upheaval and public discredit after similar issues (among others) surface in their regard. The TCDSB will not have been unfamiliar with that scenario given that it had, itself, been placed under Ministry supervision, not that long ago, for practises that included similarly questionable conventions.
But, Life is a Life-long Learning process, so to speak..
A third delegation, appearing in order to advise the Board on the Italian Community’s (and others’) position on the massive Construction Project envisioned for the South-West corner of Dufferin and Lawrence Avenues – because it hinges on a shared-used facility with a TCDSB school – was met with what can best be described as aggressive badgering and hectoring by yet another Trustee.
The lead-off speaker, a retired University professor and one of the original founders of the Villa Charities, a community organization now turned Developer, remained – to his credit – cool, calm and collected. He had come to offer his perspective for the Board’s consideration, as is his right and duty as a citizen, even if the Trustee had difficulty grasping the concept.
The Professor’s two colleagues - a lawyer and a former MPP – followed with valiant presentations imploring the TCDSB to re-assess the project on technical matters and on its socio-cultural impacts. In vain, on the face of it, even as the local trustee, Maria Rizzo, tried to salvage a smattering of respect for well-intentioned citizen delegations.
The Board voted to “receive and refer”. Their mind was made up, so to speak.
Ironically, the very next day, as reported by the Corriere Canadese, the Minister of Education sent the Chair of the Board a letter outlining the government’s position. In brief, its contents signalled the withdrawal of the Ontario government’s permission to proceed with the joint-use facility. Moreover, it reminded the TCDSB that it cannot proceed with capital projects without the expressed written consent of the Minister.
And, that is not coming anytime soon … so to speak.