Province may expropriate Toronto-owned land for Ontario Place redevelopment if deal can't be reached with city: report
Signs advise people about ongoing construction on fences separating Trillium Park from the West island of Ontario Place Sunday June 4, 2023. (Joshua Freeman /CP24)
Published Thursday, July 6, 2023 10:54AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 6, 2023 10:54AM EDT
The province will be forced to expropriate property from the City of Toronto for the redevelopment of Ontario Place if city council will not willingly transfer over the land, according to a new report.
The Draft Environmental Study Report on the Ontario Place Redevelopment Project was released earlier this week and authors of the report indicated that if the province does not reach an agreement with the city to transfer Toronto-owned water or lands to the government of Ontario, “expropriation will be required.”
Last month, the province quietly shut down public access to a section of Ontario Place ahead of its redevelopment plans.
Gates were erected, shutting off access to the path through the marina that connects the West Island to Trillium Park as the government prepares to build a private spa and water park on the site.
Members of the opposition and incoming Toronto mayor Olivia Chow have spoken out against plans to build the so-called mega spa, which will be operated by Austrian resort developer Therme.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, Chow said she hopes to avoid taking the province to court if it does expropriate city lands at Ontario Place.
"I'm waiting for an opportunity to talk to Premier (Doug) Ford and sit down with him and talk about many different issues. Ontario Place would be one of them," Chow said.
"Expropriation is a blunt instrument and it takes time also. What we don't want is to waste a lot of money in court, but that is available."
During the mayoral campaign, Chow promised to fight the province’s plans for the spa, suggesting that she would withhold a parcel of city-owned land to prevent the Ford government from moving ahead with the project.
“Keeping it private means that you will have to have a substantial amount of money to come down and use this waterfront,” she said during a news conference last month.
She told reporters that Ford’s plan is “wrong-headed” and said she hoped she and the premier could “find common ground.”
“Maybe move the spa to another place…Move it up to (Exhibition Place) maybe,” she said. “Or perhaps even Etobicoke, where there is a lot of open land.”
A spokesperson for Therme previously told CP24 that 15 per cent of the project will be for spa services, 67 per cent will be “devoted to wave pools, water slides, and family fun spaces,” while the remaining 18 per cent would be for “sports recovery and rehabilitation services.”
In May, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles called on the Ford government to cancel the lease agreement with Therme.
“Ontarians know a bad deal when they see one, and they know when something doesn’t smell right,” Stiles said in a statement.
“(The Ford government is) signing over a massive swath of public parkland for a private luxury spa for 95 years.”
Ontario NDP MPP Chris Glover, who represents the downtown riding encompassing Ontario Place, slammed the Ford government for not including the private developments, including the spa and Live Nation concert venue, in the Environmental Assessment.
“The assessment doesn’t include the two biggest development projects that are happening at Ontario Place,” he told CP24 on Thursday.
“What we do know from the Environmental Assessment is that Ontario Place as a whole has become a wildlife habitat, it has become an ecosystem. And what the Therme development proposes to do is actually obliterate every living thing from the west island.”
He said this includes 850 trees, beaver, mink, foxes, endangered species like American eels, and 113 bird species, 25 per cent of which nest on the island.
“All of that will be obliterated to make a massive spa, a glass dome,” he said.
Glover added that it is particularly concerning that these developments weren’t included in the Environmental Assessment given the impacts we are currently seeing as a result of climate change, including a surge in forest fires.
“We are in the midst of a global climate emergency and this Environment Assessment doesn’t include the impact of building, heating, and cooling, a 10-acre glass dome,” he added.
Glover said he hopes the premier makes good on a promise to work with the city going forward.
“The Therme spa, the other place that they have is they built one in a farmer’s field in Bucharest,” he said.
“It’s not that you can’t have a spa. It just shouldn’t be on public parkland in some of the most valuable waterfront property in the country.”
Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure has not responded to CP24’s request for comment on the Draft Environmental Study Report.
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also criticized the provincial government for failing to investigate the environmental impacts of the Therme spa and the expansion of the concert venue.
“Given this government’s environmental track record, it’s no surprise that their so-called environmental assessment of the Ontario Place redevelopment fails to consider the massive private projects that will dominate most of the space,” Schreiner said in a written statement released Thursday.
“But make no mistake: cutting down hundreds of trees, destroying wildlife habitats and installing an enormous private spa complex on public land is not going to have an environmental benefit.”
He said the revitalization of the site should allow for widespread public access.
“It should respect the park’s initial vision – to be a public park for people of all ages, not a pay-to-play luxury spa with a few public walkways in its shadow,” the statement read.
-With files from CP24's Josh Freeman and CTV Toronto's Katherine DeClerq