‘The fight is not over’
Mayor says city has no sway on issue, but waterfront group eyes court challenge, AG review
DAVID RIDER CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF
Critics vow to continue battle against Ontario Place overhaul despite mayor’s concession
Opponents of Premier Doug Ford’s spa-focused Ontario Place redevelopment scheme are vowing to fight on despite Mayor Olivia Chow’s admission that Toronto can’t keep the beloved site entirely public.
While announcing a new deal for Toronto to start repairing the city’s pandemic-shredded finances, Chow released a letter from city manager Paul Johnson conceding that the city “lacks tools to prevent the province from moving forward with its Ontario Place proposal.”
The province is ending a voluntary city review of the plan, which already sparked some changes, and is moving to seize city land on the site it needs to proceed, with no objection from Toronto.
“I believe the fight for Ontario Place is not over, especially in light of the legal action that we’ve taken,” urban planner Ken Greenberg told the Star on Monday shortly after Ford and Chow spoke to reporters at Queen’s Park.
Greenberg was referring to advocacy group Ontario Place for All’s court application for an injunction to stop construction of a private spa complex on the West Island until after the plan undergoes a “full environmental assessment.”
The city’s former director of urban design, Greenberg predicted the court won’t let the Ford government exclude the Therme spa and an expanded Budweiser Stage from an environmental review of changes planned for the former amusement park.
That, along with Ontario’s auditor general launching a value-formoney audit of the redevelopment, give him hope that the downtown waterfront site will remain fully public and parkland-based, even if Toronto isn’t leading the charge, he said.
Days before she was elected mayor in June, Chow released a campaign ad vowing to fight to keep Ontario Place public rather than host a towering private spa with a 99-year lease on a swath of waterfront land.
On Monday she said her position has not changed but “it is called Ontario Place — the land belongs to the provincial government and we do not have the authority to stop the development.”
The fight over the site’s future will happen at Queen’s Park, she added, “not at the municipal level.”
The statement triggered anger from some Chow voters on social media who accused the mayor of sacrificing Ontario Place to secure new provincial funding.
Others argued that, since Ford got a Supreme Court ruling cementing the province’s near-total control over cities, Toronto was essentially powerless to force any redevelopment changes so Chow was not giving up anything valuable.
The city did secure two concessions — that a publicly funded underground parking garage will likely be built at city-owned Exhibition Place, potentially keeping more Ontario Place land public, and that some science-based and community-based programming will remain at the current Ontario Science Centre site.
Coun. Ausma Malik, a leading voice against Ford’s plan and representative of the area that includes Ontario Place, noted that Monday’s agreement includes billions of dollars, over years, for Toronto housing, transit and other vital services.
The city statement was just acknowledgment of provincial legal powers, Malik said, predicting the fight to keep Ontario Place fully public will continue unabated.
“The province wasn’t getting its way through the (city) planning process, wanted our stamp of approval and didn’t get it, and is now taking extraordinary measures (to seize city land) because we didn’t cave,” said the Spadina—Fort York councillor.
“Ontarians see this waterfront grab for what it is — a bad use of public money for a private development, and a plan that we have demonstrated through this process does not belong on our waterfront.”
Lesley Lewis, part of a group fighting to prevent Science Centre programming moving from Don Mills to Ontario Place, said assurances that some programming will remain in the current building won’t affect the fight.
“The fundamental question hasn’t been answered,” she said. “What’s the business case for moving the Science Centre to a smaller space on a site that has traffic congestion and is less accessible ... It just doesn’t make sense.”
I believe the fight for Ontario Place is not over, especially in light of the legal action that we’ve taken.
KEN GREENBERG URBAN PLANNER
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited