The Ford government was already considering relocating the Ontario Science Centre before civil servants were asked to write a business case that endorsed the decision, new documents unearthed by the Ontario NDP suggest.
A briefing note prepared for the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport in August 2021 includes talking points about the science centre and Ontario Place.
“Relocating the OSC to the Ontario Place site could offer a similar amount of exhibit space in a modern and efficient facility,” one line in the Aug. 27, 2021, note explains.
The document was obtained through a freedom of information request filed by the Ontario NDP.
It is dated more than 1.5 years before the province announced a plan to move the science centre to Ontario Place, and months before a business case was ever commissioned to explore the move.
“This is further evidence that (Premier Doug) Ford had decided to move the Ontario Science Centre long before any ‘business case’ had been prepared,” Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said.
“It seems clear the government prepared this ‘business case’ with a predetermined outcome. They’d already made their decision, despite the public’s concerns.”
The government, however, said the move had been considered since at least 2012 and was supported by the eventual business case.
“The business case supported our government’s original vision for Ontario Place, which was to bring science-based programming to the heart of Toronto as part of a new world-class destination,” a spokesperson for the Infrastructure Minister told Global News.
The briefing note also said that the Ford government was “working with the Ontario Science Centre to explore opportunities for science-related tourism and education programming at Ontario Place’s Cinesphere and pod complex” in August 2021.
While the opposition says the note suggests the outcome of the Infrastructure Ontario business case was a predetermined conclusion, the idea of moving the Ontario Science Centre has been mooted for years.
Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park at the end of November, Infrastructure Ontario CEO Michael Lindsay said the previous Liberal government had considered the same move.
An Infrastructure Ontario document in August 2016 came to “a very similar conclusion,” and suggested there would be “several benefits, including cost-saving,” to moving the Ontario Science Centre to a new home at Ontario Place, he said.
That document was never made public.
The briefing note also suggests the increasing disrepair of the Ontario Science Centre has long been known by politicians at Queen’s Park.
A growing repair log and aging infrastructure has been repeatedly cited by Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma as a key justification for moving the attraction from its home at Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue.
“The structure itself has deteriorated,” Surma claimed in the spring. “It is falling apart.”
The document suggests the problem was acute long before the Ford government began discussing it publicly.
The briefing note explains that, for the 2021-2022 year, the province has agreed to spend up to $610,000 to address “capital repairs that pose imminent health and safety and asset integrity risks.”
Stiles said both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives “chose” to let the building fall into disrepair.
The province pointed to a recent report that suggested the Ontario Science Centre would reach the end of its useful lifecycle within the next three to five years.
In October 2022, the Ford government greenlit an extra $7 million in short-term funding to keep the science centre going in the interim.