Members of Parliament Kristyn Wong-Tam and Chris Glover lambasted the provincial government's Ontario Place redevelopment plans, questioning the lack of transparency surrounding the project that would see a large portion of the waterfront park privatized.
At a press conference held Friday morning, Wong-Tam questioned the province's lack of public consultation before selecting a private, for-profit company from Austria, Therme Group, to build a $350M spa and waterpark that visitors would have to pay to access -- part of what Wong-Tam dubbed a "secret Doug Ford deal."
"Why are corporate subsidies being given to a foreign company? And why do we have no financial disclosure, or even a business case, to review?" Wong-Tam said.
The press conference came one day after Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles sent a letter to the Auditor General of Ontario calling for a compliance investigation and "value for money audit" on the Ontario Place plans.
"The government is committing taxpayers to bear the cost of servicing and preparing the site -- estimated by Infrastructure Ontario at $200M, only to hand over a 22-acre public property to a private for-profit Austrian company," the letter reads.
Glover concurred with Wong-Tam, saying he is "deeply concerned" about a redevelopment process that has been "shrouded in secrecy."
"They're playing fast and loose with the rules," Glover said. "They're exempting themselves from the required environmental assessment, they are exempting themselves from their heritage commitments, and they are committing Ontarians to an estimated $650M in investment only to hand over this property to a private, for-profit corporation."
The MPPs are far from the first to raise issues over Theme Group's plans for the park, with many months of criticism from residents, activists, and politicians alike piling up. The Province appeared to address these concerns in the their official redevelopment plans filed with the City of Toronto in December, noting that “the proposed development ensures that approximately two-thirds of the parkland site is open to the public without cost.” This, of course, still means one-third of the parkland will be restricted. However, “100% of the waterfront is publicly accessible,” the planning documents say.
Glover and Wong-Tam were joined on Friday by Ontario Place for All Co-Chair Cindy Wilkey and Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Board Member Bill Greaves, who similarly voiced their concerns. Greaves spoke to the culturally significant 20th century architecture and landscape design that would be lost in the redevelopment.
"What would we think if other governments around the world treated their iconic modern sites like this?What if in Australia, Sydney decided to put an enormous spa in the park next to their Opera House?" Greaves said. "It seems clear to us that ACO that the original vision of Ontario Place is still very much needed -- green place to enjoy city views from."
Wilkey raised questions as to how Therme was chosen in the first place, and underscored the lack of accountability for privatizing public land.
"Why spend half a billion dollars to bring an Austrian spa to Ontario Place, a business that says nothing about Ontario except, by implication, that Ontario has nothing local to offer."