A jarring new report from the Ontario Auditor General further embroiled Premier Doug Ford in scandal on Wednesday, revealing some of his true motives for controversially moving the province’s Science Centre to the new Ontario Place.
The 72-page document auditing the value-for-money benefits of potentially moving the Flemingdon Park institution to the waterfront admitted that the centre is currently facing a number of major challenges, among them falling attendance and some serious capital repairs to the tune of $370 million.
But, some other pressing concerns have come to light, among them Ford’s reasons for the surprise move, which include his plans for a mega-garage on the site that the public only found out about in October.
Huge waste of taxpayer’s money, I thought Conservatives cared about that ? Or is it more about lining the pockets of rich and well-connected people ?
— Ian James (@IanJames560603) October 18, 2023
Acting Auditor General Nick Stavropoulos writes that Ford contractually obligated the province to provide some 3,000 parking spaces for the private Therme spa, writing that “the decision to relocate the Science Centre was presented to government decisionmakers as contributing to a site-wide parking solution integrated with the new building.”
He notes that per the 2023 proposal for the overall revitalization of the Ontario Place lands, “a site-wide parking solution was needed to meet the province’s existing legal obligations under the lease it had signed with Therme Group and for its potential lease obligations with Live Nation … and future tenants.”
If the province does not fulfill this and other terms of its contract with Austria-based Therme Group, it will have to pay out a penalty. The solution? Move the Science Centre and include parking in the new build to “dispel public/stakeholder concerns relating to cost and impact on the environment.”
— blogTO (@blogTO) November 3, 2023
The underground garage was first slated to cost some $307 million, according to early estimates from the Ministry of Infrastructure.
But, the Ministry failed to include the garage in its own cost-benefit analysis for migrating the Centre “because parking was not dedicated to the Science Centre but was, rather, required for the overall redevelopment of Ontario Place.”
This means that while Ford’s leadership claims building a new facility at Ontario Place rather than maintaining the old one would save the province $250 million — costing $1.047 billion rather than $1.304 — not all costs were considered in that estimate.
The Auditor General thus says that the resolution to include the Centre in the Ontario Place plans was made with “preliminary and incomplete cost information.” There is also the fact that the government was considering the move years before it, and the revitalization in general, were announced.
Transit-watchers may find some irony here, given that the current Science Centre location is by a station on the forthcoming Crosstown LRT line — a station specifically named for the Science Centre
— Oliver Moore (@moore_oliver) December 6, 2023
The City of Toronto has suggested that Therme be relocated to the underutilized Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place, which reports found would have been less disruptive than the current plan, along with being less contended by the public.
The grounds also already have thousands of parking spaces, and Ford has said he will look into moving the Therme lot, but not the whole complex, there instead.
Meanwhile, he is exempting the Ontario Place grounds from all sorts of rules as construction of its new iteration pushes on, from environmental assessments and committee hearings to local noise bylaws.