TORONTO – Premier Doug Ford mused Tuesday about putting a school or community centre on the current east Toronto site of the Ontario Science Centre, just one week after touting a plan for thousands of housing units there.
The apparently changing “Whack-a-Mole” nature of Ford’s vision for the site suggests it’s being crafted “on the back of a napkin,” opposition parties charged. It’s all the more reason the public needs to see the business case for moving the science centre to a revamped Ontario Place, as Ford announced last week, critics said.
Last week, Ford announced that a redeveloped Ontario Place will include a new location for the science centre, albeit with a smaller footprint than its current one, with construction set to begin in 2025. Ford said the current science centre would be demolished and the site would be used for “thousands of units” of housing.
But at an unrelated announcement Tuesday, Ford faced a long string of questions on Ontario Place and the science centre, and didn’t mention housing once. Instead, he threw out a few different ideas.
“If the City of Toronto wants to work collaboratively – again, it’s their property – if they need some community benefits, I hear they need a new school, we’ll build a new school,” he said. “(If) they need a new community centre, we’ll build a new community centre.”
Minutes later, in question period at the legislature, Ford’s associate housing minister stood to answer an NDP question on the science centre, stressing the need for more housing in Ontario.
There is a lot of mixed messaging, said NDP Leader Marit Stiles.
“It’s like Whack-a-Mole planning with this government,” she said. “You just don’t know what’s coming tomorrow or the next day. The plans continue to change daily and there’s so many more questions than answers still about this terrible scheme.”
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority owns much of the land at the current science centre site, and it says it has had no discussions with the province about a possible science centre relocation. It also noted that much of the land is a ravine and would be hazardous to build upon.
Most of the rest of the land is owned by the city, and a spokesperson said Tuesday that the current lease agreement allows for the demolition of the science centre, but any new structures have to be for the purposes of operating as a science centre.
Stiles said it sounds like Ford was surprised to learn he couldn’t build whatever he wanted on the science centre site.
“Guess what he found out today, that he can’t necessarily do whatever he wants on there,” she said. “So now he’s got some other cockamamie scheme for that space. Look, I don’t know, do we need a community centre? Do we need a school? Maybe. Probably. But did anybody ask the community what they need?”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said there has not been a lot of transparency when it comes to plans for the science centre or Ontario Place, and the announcements have felt rushed.
“This feels like it was done on the back of a napkin,” he said.
Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma has said the government drew up a business case that showed it will be more cost effective to move the science centre to Ontario Place on Toronto’s waterfront than to rebuild it at its current location, but she has so far refused to release it.
The public needs to see the business case, as well as the terms of the long-term lease – Global News has reported it is for 95 years – with a European company to build a spa and waterpark at Ontario Place, Fraser said.
“The average life of buildings and waterparks, I’ve got to tell you, it’s not 95 years,” he said.
“So what are the conditions of that lease? And what are the people who hold that lease allowed to do on that property? And what are their responsibilities on that property?”
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