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EDITORIAL: AG confirms Ford rigged Science Centre analysis (Dec. 2023)

December 23rd, 2023 · No Comments

In an annual report, Ontario’s Acting Auditor General (AG) Nick Stavropoulos contradicts the conclusions of the government’s stated “business case” for moving the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place. It turns out the “savings” the government promises taxpayers is anything but.

Infrastructure Ontario announced this past week that moving the Science Centre to a new, smaller waterfront building would save $277 million over 50 years. This argument comes months after the Doug Ford government announced the move, so it is something of an afterthought. The AG report strongly disagrees with the government’s case.

According to the AG, there was no serious discussion with the City of Toronto, or the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). Together the city and the authority are the landlords to the province with a 99-year lease for the existing location. And according to that lease, the province may only operate a science centre on the site and is contractually obliged to maintain it. The province also failed to consult with users including school groups and suburban parents who may not want a smaller science centre located in the traffic hell that is the waterfront. The province after all is close to opening the Eglinton LRT which has a stop called “Science Centre.”

The province has now backed away from its plan to demolish the existing centre on Don Mills Road. The AG estimates that $257 million is needed to repair the existing repurposed structure. Since the government likes to borrow from distant future savings in its arguments, that’s $369 million over the next 20 years. The report also says the government conveniently omitted “parking costs, financing, legal and other transactional costs.”

The fact that the new Science Centre is only half the size of the existing one is not considered. It’s the other elephant in the room. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. 

Aside from the aforementioned deficiencies and convenient omissions in the government’s case identified by this independent assessment, it is not widely acknowledged that the order of operations is all wrong here. This is classic Doug Ford with echoes of the Green Belt fiasco, the dissolution of Peel Region, and privatization of health care. The decision to move the centre was taken long before the stated reasons to do so were conjured up. 

The real reason of course is to provide cover so the premier can justify spending $370 million on a parking garage for the private spa being built by the Austria-based Therme group at Ontario Place. That parking expense, not surprisingly, is not reflected in either business case. But you will see it with your tax bill; it just won’t be itemized.

To distract voters when the AG report was published, Doug Ford reached into his bag of shiny objects and offered banning puppy mills and pulling out of the plan to dissolve Peel Region. He concluded the week with a familiar go to: let’s sell beer out of corner stores, a variation on his other abandoned commitment—“buck a beer.”

Lest too much light be shed on the flaws in the government’s plans, the ruling conservatives passed a motion to bypass debate and public hearings on the bill to redevelop Ontario Place. The opposition says the skipped hearings and the absence of an opportunity for debate is undemocratic and suggests “the government is hiding something.” No kidding.

The provincial government should go back to the drawing board and take a serious look at the investments needed to renew the existing science centre facility and decouple it from the private spa which is clearly driving this flawed proposal.


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