Critics of the Ontario government’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place into a large spa and water park said Monday that they will continue their fight despite a new deal between the city and the province that will see Toronto drop its opposition to the project.
“We’re very disappointed Torontonians and Ontarians won’t have their say as this redevelopment continues through city hall because it seems like the province is simply going to pull it away,” Ontario Place for All Co-Chair Norm Di Pasquale told CP24. “Now we’ve all lost our say but I expect the City of Toronto to support Ontario Places for All’s actions going forward.”
Premier Doug Ford and Mayor Olivia Chow announced Monday that they have reached a new deal for the city that will see the province take back responsibility for the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway – a move that will save Toronto billions of dollars. In exchange however, the city has agreed to a number of concessions, including “acceptance of the province’s authority to advance approvals for Ontario Place and a new Ontario Science Centre location.”
A statement from the province also says that the city “has accepted that the province will take steps to assume authority for necessary planning approvals for Ontario Place and that the province “would have the ability to acquire land and water at and around Ontario Place that may be needed for future use as part of the rebuilding process.”
The project, which will reportedly see Austrian company Therme take a 95-year lease for the property, has faced sharp criticism from the public and community groups.
In the Toronto mayoral race earlier this year, Chow said that she would oppose the Ford government’s plan for Ontario Place and said that the site should remain a public park instead of a private spa.
After she took office in July, Chow said that the city could fight the province’s expropriation of some of its lands for the project in court, comments that Ford called “disappointing” at the time.
Just several weeks ago, Chow’s Executive Committee asked city staff to explore the feasibility of using space at Exhibition Place to house the spa as an alternative to Ontario Place.
Speaking with reporters Monday, Chow said her position is still the same, but she now believes that the city can’t do anything to block the project.
“It has been my position that I believe that Ontario Place should be a public park but it is called Ontario Place,” Chow said. “The land belongs to the provincial government and we do not have the authority to stop the development. The future of Ontario Place, that debate is going to happen here at Queen’s Park, not at the municipal level.”
She said parking for the new facility could still be moved to Exhibition Place, an idea that could potentially preserve more park space at Ontario Place.
Ford did not respond directly when asked if he would support the idea.
Speaking with CP24 later, Chow said that she tried to convince the premier to move the spa project somewhere else.
“But they said ‘Naw, I’m not interested.’”
However she said there has “been movement” in discussions around the parking and about keeping some science programming at the Science Centre’s current location, even though the province still plans to move the Science Centre to Ontario Place.
“So both the Science Centre and the parking, there’s movement on it. That’s the best we can do,” Chow said.
Asked if he thought the mayor should have fought harder, Di Pasquale said “the province has left the city with little option.”
Speaking with CP24, Councillor Brad Bradford, who opposed Chow in the mayoral race, commended her for “walking back” some of her campaign positions to get the deal done with the province.
“It’s a significant reversal from her positions in the campaign with respect to uploading and rebuilding the Gardiner, with respect to sort of putting the swords down on Ontario Place and with respect to having more police officers on the TTC,” Bradford said. “These are all common sense positions that I think the vast majority of Torontonians agree with.”
Ontario’s auditor general said earlier this month that it was probing the province’s deal with Therme. That process remains ongoing.
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