Prov­ince fires Water­front Toronto di­rec­tors

Mem­bers turfed af­ter re­port crit­i­cal of board’s pace on de­vel­op­ment

Toronto Star - - CANADA - DAVID RIDER CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF With files from Francine Kopun and Dono­van Vin­cent

Toronto’s price­less un­de­vel­oped Port Lands have a “ques­tion mark over them” says the woman fired by Premier Doug Ford’s gov­ern­ment as chair of the in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal board over­see­ing water­front de­vel­op­ment.

“There is a risk — Water­front Toronto has been very care­ful and de­lib­er­ate over 15 years of plan­ning on be­half of res­i­dents and tax­pay­ers,” said He­len Burstyn, who was told by In­fra­struc­ture Minister Monte McNaughton on Thurs­day night she and two other board mem­bers were turfed.

“It has been a very demo­cratic process and pro­duced ex­cel­lent re­sults,” she said in a Fri­day in­ter­view. “There’s a ques­tion mark go­ing for­ward. If you ac­cel­er­ate the sale of the land, the way the prov­ince sold the Hearn (for­mer gen­er­at­ing site), I don’t think that bodes well for the fu­ture of the water­front that we as­pire to and that peo­ple de­serve.”

Burstyn, ap­pointed by Kath­leen Wynne’s Liberal gov­ern­ment in 2016 and elected chair by the board in 2017, was re­moved along with fel­low pro­vin­cial ap­pointees Meric Gertler, pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Toronto, and Michael No­brega, an ac­coun­tant and for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of the On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees Re­tire­ment Sys­tem. Burstyn said McNaughton gave no rea­son for her dis­missal, but she as­sumes it’s re­lated to a highly crit­i­cal re­port by pro­vin­cial au­di­tor gen­eral Bon­nie Lysyk re­leased Wed­nes­day.

Lysyk urged the prov­ince to “re­assess” if it’s ap­pro­pri­ate for Water­front Toronto, a pro­vin­cial-fed­eral-city agency, to “act on its own” de­vel­op­ing a part­ner­ship with Google sis­ter com­pany Side­walk Labs to build a high-tech neigh­bour­hood called Quay­side near Queens Quay E. and Par­lia­ment St.

Lysyk also ac­cused Water­front Toronto of mov­ing too slowly to get shore­line land de­vel­oped.

Burstyn said she and the board ac­cepted the au­di­tor gen­eral’s rec­om­men­da­tions for improvements mov­ing for­ward, but dis­agreed with some of her find­ings.

She agreed with Lysyk that the Water­front Toronto struc­ture pro­vides some struc­tural bar­ri­ers to be­ing ef­fec­tive, but said “over the past 15 years Water­front Toronto has done an amaz­ing job,” re­de­vel­op­ing over 290 acres of water­front with projects in­clud­ing Su­gar Beach and the Queens Quay re­de­vel­op­ment.

Also, get­ting three gov­ern­ments to share the cost of $1.25 bil­lion in flood-proof­ing, in­clud­ing a “re­nat­u­ral­iza­tion” of the mouth of the Don River and cre­ation of a new river val­ley, which will un­locked the Port Lands for hugely valu­able de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fit­ing the city and prov­ince, Burstyn added.

The Ford gov­ern­ment’s move sets the stage for a shift in the agency that will help de­ter­mine the fate of Toronto’s east­ern water­front in­clud­ing the sprawl­ing Port Lands, for­mer in­dus­trial sites ripe for de­vel­op­ment. He can now ap­point four new mem­bers — re­plac­ing the three he re­moved and Julie Di Lorenzo, who quit the board in Au­gust — to the 12-mem­ber board.

It re­mains un­clear how the re­place­ment of four board mem­bers and the au­di­tor gen­eral’s find­ings will af­fect plans for Water­front Toronto and Side­walk Labs to com­plete in early 2019 a mas­ter plan to build Quay­side, sub­ject to ap­proval from both sides as well as the three gov­ern­ments.

Side­walk Labs spokesper­son Keerthana Rang said the Man- hat­tan-based com­pany re­mains “com­mit­ted to work­ing with all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment to be re­spon­sive to any is­sues of con­cern.”

McNaughton said in a state­ment the au­di­tor gen­eral’s re­port “made it clear that over­sight needs strength­en­ing. Specif­i­cally, the re­port stated that Water­front Toronto failed to prop­erly con­sult with its over­seers. This is un­ac­cept­able.

“I was also shocked to learn the board was given one week­end to ex­am­ine the most im­por­tant trans­ac­tion in its his­tory be­fore be­ing asked to ap­prove it,” the minister said, cit­ing re­ports of projects go­ing over bud­get. Burstyn said some of the cited over­runs ex­ceeded the tar­get bud­get but were within a board-set range of ac­cept­able costs, and were bal­anced by other un­der­bud­get projects.

McNaughton wouldn’t spec­u­late on any other changes be­sides new board mem­bers.

Ford has de­clared On­tario is “open for busi­ness” and, while a city coun­cil­lor from 2010 to 2014, pushed for quicker de­vel­op­ment of the Port Lands, pos­si­bly in­clud­ing a mall, casino, ho­tel and Fer­ris wheel.

Water­front Toronto it­self con­trols only a small seg­ment of land in­clud­ing Quay­side. Most of the 800-acre Port Lands are owned by the City of Toronto. Ford and Mayor John Tory met be­hind closed doors Thurs­day, and water­front de­vel­op­ment was one of the top­ics they dis­cussed.

Tory told re­porters Fri­day that Ford gave him ad­vance no­tice of the board fir­ings but as­sured the mayor the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has no plans to “blow up” the water­front cor­po­ra­tion or try to grab control of city prop­erty in the Port Lands.

“He said to me that we’re go- ing to make changes to the board, they had some con­cerns about dif­fer­ent as­pects to things the water­front cor­po­ra­tion was do­ing, but there was no plan that ac­com­pa­nied mak­ing changes to the board that would con­sti­tute any­thing that would im­peril the water­front cor­po­ra­tion. I take him at his word on that,” Tory said.

When re­porters noted Ford de­cided to uni­lat­er­ally cut the size of city coun­cil in mid­elec­tion with no for­mal con­sul­ta­tion or no­tice, Tory said he warned Ford if he tries any­thing sim­i­lar with the water­front, “he would have a big prob­lem with me on that and I think with the whole of the city of Toronto and the city coun­cil. He in­di­cated that was not some­thing that was in the cards.”

Provin­cially owned On­tario Power Gen­er­a­tion re­cently sold the 16-hectare for­mer Hearn coal-burn­ing plant on Unwin Ave. on Lake On­tario to a pri­vate com­pany for $16 mil­lion, with­out no­ti­fy­ing the City of Toronto or Water­front Toronto even though the site fig­ures in Port Lands plans.

Seven Water­front Toronto board mem­bers re­main. Three are City of Toronto cit­i­zen ap­pointees, with a fourth city rep­re­sen­ta­tive, a city coun­cil­lor, soon to be named. Four are fed­eral ap­pointees. Burstyn’s term on the board was to ex­pire in Fe­bru­ary.

Di Lorenzo, the prom­i­nent Toronto de­vel­oper who re­signed from the Water­front Toronto board in July over the Side­walk Labs part­ner­ship, said the fired board mem­bers are “good peo­ple” in “ex­tra­or­di­nary” cir­cum­stances.

She said the au­di­tor gen­eral’s re­port shone much-needed light on the agency’s work with the ur­ban in­no­va­tion firm.


He­len Burstyn said the Water­front Toronto board ac­cepted the au­di­tor gen­eral’s rec­om­men­da­tions for improvements mov­ing for­ward, but dis­agreed with some of her find­ings.

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