Ot­tawa, Toronto stand by Water­front Toronto board

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - JOSH O’KANE TECH­NOL­OGY RE­PORTER

Toronto and Ot­tawa are stand­ing by Water­front Toronto’s lead­er­ship af­ter the On­tario gov­ern­ment fired its representatives from the board over its smart-city plans.

On­tario Au­di­tor-Gen­eral Bon­nie Lysyk re­vealed nu­mer­ous con­cerns this week about Water­front Toronto’s gov­er­nance and the han­dling of the Quay­side pro­ject, its pro­posed smart-city de­vel­op­ment with Google af­fil­i­ate Side­walk Labs. The Globe and Mail re­ported Thurs­day night that the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment had told three di­rec­tors ap­pointed by the pre­vi­ous Liberal gov­ern­ment that they were be­ing re­moved.

Water­front Toronto is charged with de­vel­op­ing the shore of Lake On­tario along the city’s south­ern edge; it rep­re­sents all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment, each of whom can ap­point four mem­bers to its board. Those to be re­placed are chair He­len Burstyn; Univer­sity of Toronto pres­i­dent Meric Gertler; and Michael No­brega, a vet­eran in­vest­ment ex­ec­u­tive who is also the agency’s act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive. The prov­ince’s fourth board seat has been va­cant since de­vel­oper Julie Di Lorenzo stepped down last sum­mer in frus­tra­tion over the Quay­side pro­ject.

The agency said on Fri­day that Mr. No­brega would con­tinue in his role as act­ing CEO un­til a per­ma­nent re­place­ment was hired, as had pre­vi­ously been planned. In an e-mail, may­oral spokesman Don Peat said that Mayor John Tory sup­ported Mr. No­brega con­tin­u­ing to lead Water­front Toronto.

“I … want the pub­lic to un­der­stand that these are good peo­ple who did their best, and there shouldn’t be any thought that they did any­thing wrong,” Mr. Tory said at a news con­fer­ence. “The [pro­vin­cial] gov­ern­ment just wants to change di­rec­tors.”

Mr. Tory also said he be­lieved the agency would not be de­railed by the de­ci­sion of Premier Doug Ford’s gov­ern­ment. “I cer­tainly was sat­is­fied from our dis­cus­sion yesterday that there was not some broader at­tempt here to take the Water­front cor­po­ra­tion apart, or dis­man­tle it at all.”

In­fra­struc­ture Canada han­dles the Water­front Toronto file for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. A spokesper­son said in an e-mail that Ot­tawa sup­ported the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s right to in­de­pen­dently choose its board ap­pointees.

“We are proud of the work of the fed­eral board mem­bers and the or­ga­ni­za­tion which has led to a his­toric, more than $1-bil­lion agree­ment for flood pro­tec­tion in the Port­lands as well as the first steps to­ward the Quay­side re­de­vel­op­ment,” wrote spokesper­son Ann-Clara Vail­lan­court. “We will be as­sess­ing the im­pact of the prov­ince’s de­ci­sions on the op­er­a­tions of Water­front Toronto, as we are the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral’s re­port.”

Side­walk Labs is a sub­sidiary of Google par­ent Al­pha­bet Inc., and has made nu­mer­ous first-of-its-kind pro­pos­als for the smart-city pro­ject, in­clud­ing adap­tive traf­fic sig­nals and an un­der­ground freight-and-garbage trans­porta­tion sys­tem. Data could be col­lected by sen­sors such as pedes­trian coun­ters to learn more about ur­ban life and build in­no­va­tions from it.

Water­front Toronto and Side­walk Labs first an­nounced the pro­ject in Oc­to­ber 2017, with Mr. Tory, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then­premier Kath­leen Wynne and then-Al­pha­bet ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Eric Schmidt all in at­ten­dance.

It has since faced nu­mer­ous crit­i­cisms about data own­er­ship, pri­vacy and in­no­va­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties. There have been four high­pro­file res­ig­na­tions by board mem­bers and pro­ject ad­vis­ers since mid-sum­mer, in­clud­ing Ms. Di Lorenzo, renowned pri­vacy ex­pert Ann Cavoukian, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist John Ruf­folo and en­tre­pre­neur Saa­dia Muzaf­far. The Au­di­tor-Gen­eral’s re­port this week raised con­cerns about the pro­ject’s gov­er­nance and data usage.

In a state­ment on Fri­day, Water­front Toronto said it ac­cepted the prov­ince’s de­ci­sion to re­move its board mem­bers and thanked them for their ser­vice. Side­walk Labs also is­sued a state­ment that echoed its ini­tial re­sponse to the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral re­port, out­lin­ing its ef­forts to con­sult and in­form the pub­lic about the pro­ject. “We re­ceived the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral’s re­port and are com­mit­ted to work­ing with all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment to be re­spon­sive to any is­sues of con­cern,” wrote spokesper­son Keerthana Rang.

Ms. Burstyn con­firmed her de­par­ture to The Globe Thurs­day night, and Water­front Toronto ac­knowl­edged on Fri­day that Mr. No­brega would no longer serve on the board. Late Fri­day, Univer­sity of Toronto spokesper­son Elizabeth Church said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that “Pres­i­dent Gertler served at the plea­sure of the gov­ern­ment and will con­tinue to do work to en­cour­age city-build­ing ef­forts through his role as Pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Toronto.”

The Quay­side pro­ject is con­tin­gent on a board vote over a not-yet-com­pleted “mas­ter in­no­va­tion and de­vel­op­ment plan” late next year. If it passes, many parts of it will need ap­provals from all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

I … want the pub­lic to un­der­stand that these are good peo­ple who did their best, and there shouldn’t be any thought that they did any­thing wrong. JOHN TORY MAYOR OF TORONTO

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