Ontario’s auditor general is conducting a value-for-money audit into the controversial re-development of Ontario Place, Global News has learned, as the Ford government faces intense backlash over its decision to host a mega spa on crown lands.
The provincial watchdog has confirmed a probe of the Ontario Place redevelopment and the Ontario Science Centre, which is due to move to a new waterfront site. Both will be scrutinized by acting auditor Nick Stavropoulos.
“The Office of the Auditor General is conducting audits for both Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre,” a spokesperson for the office said in a statement. “As these audits are currently in progress, we cannot comment on them further.”
The Ford government’s decision to allow a private, for-profit spa to be built at Ontario Place ignited controversy after Global News revealed that the Austrian company had been granted a 95-year lease to operate their facility on the land.
In exchange, Therme said it’s investing nearly half a billion dollars into Ontario Place — $350 million for the 65,000-square-foot private-access spa and $100 million for the public-access portions.
Soon after, the government revealed taxpayers would finance the construction of a new multi-million dollar, multi-level parking structure for Therme, the new science centre and a concert venue operated by Live Nation.
Critics of the plan have accused the government of shrouding the redevelopment in secrecy and welcomed the auditors probe believing it will bring transparency to the process.
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“I think this is excellent news,” Norm Di Pasquale, with advocacy group Ontario Place 4 All, said. “This is a process that needs a light shone on it.”
The province has resisted calls to answer a range of basic questions around its plans to redevelop Ontario Place.
The business case to move the science centre south from its current Eglinton Avenue and Don Mills Road site, for example, has never been published and attempts by Global News to access the information using freedom of information laws have been stonewalled.
After the government missed privacy deadlines set out in provincial law, Global News filed a formal appeal to force the release of the business case. The appeal has not yet been resolved.
Di Pasquale said the auditor general could be the person to fix the information logjam.
“It seems that they have access to things that you or I simply don’t have access to,” he said. “They can interview people that we don’t have access to. They can make them produce documents that we simply can’t get our hands on.”
The auditor general’s office has wide-ranging access to documents and records controlled by the government and crown agencies and has legal power to interview people under oath.
In August, a value-for-money probe conducted into the Ford government’s Greenbelt decision-making touched off a months-long scandal and contributed to the resignation of the two cabinet ministers and several high ranking government employees.
A government source said, however, they didn’t think the audit was a sign anything “fishy” was going on, pointing out the auditor general was looking at the Ontario Science Centre, Ontario Place and other departments as part of the annual audit process.
“I think it will show moving Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place was the right call,” the source told Global News.