Advocates ask federal government to step in and assess Ontario Place plans

Click to play video: 'Is the Ford government building the new Science Centre on top of a parking lot?'
Is the Ford government building the new Science Centre on top of a parking lot?
RELATED: The Ford government has been facing questions over the justification for uprooting the Ontario Science Centre and moving it to Ontario Place. Global News’ Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D’Mello reports – Jun 9, 2023

An advocacy group opposed to Premier Doug Ford’s plans to build a luxury spa at Ontario Place is asking the federal government to step in and assess the project, in an effort to derail the province’s sweeping changes to the once-popular tourist destination.

Ontario Place for All, which has rallied and organized opposition to the current redevelopment plans, has retained a lawyer to outline its case that Ottawa should use the Impact Assessment Act to review — and possibly overrule — the Ford government’s vision for the Crown lands, Global News has learned.

The redevelopment, spearheaded by the Ford government, includes controversial plans to build a massive spa on Ontario Place’s west island, an underground parking garage, a new home for the Ontario Science Centre along with a music venue.

In its new filed appeal, Ontario Place for All is asking the Trudeau government to consider whether the Impact Assessment Act — legislation that allows Ottawa to weigh in on provincial projects that could harm the climate and at-risk species — should be applied to the Ontario Place plans.

Story continues below advertisement

“The redevelopment of Ontario Place may cause adverse direct or incidental effects on the critical habitat of federally-listed species at risk, fish habitats, and navigable waterways,” part of the request sent to the federal government, and seen by Global News, explains.

The federal government has already flexed its powers under the act to freeze construction of the Ford government’s signature Highway 413 project through Peel, Halton and York regions.

An Austrian company, Therme, is in the process of planning a large spa and waterpark on Toronto’s waterfront. As first revealed by Global News, the project includes a 95-year lease and is the centrepiece for the province’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place.

The case for stepping in

Ontario Place for All has put concerns about protected species and the environment at the heart of its request for federal help.

The group argues that the province’s plans to enlarge Ontario Place through lake filling requires a study into potential, unspecified, at-risk species in the area and whether the redevelopment would jeopardize their habitat. The request to the federal government also suggests Ontario Place’s heritage features and history must be considered.

The group previously tried to obtain the lease between Therme and the Government of Ontario using freedom of information laws but were shut down. Infrastructure Ontario also prevented Ontario Place for All from viewing a document titled “Ontario Place Wildlife Lists.”

Story continues below advertisement

The Ontario Place for All request also points out that removing 850 trees from the site to construct Therme’s spa could have a negative impact on climate change and the environment. It calls for studies into wastewater, stormwater, sustainability and carbon calculations.

What happens next?

The request, if successful, could see Ottawa wrestle control of the project from Queen’s Park.

Under the legislation, federal officials could demand Ontario complete a range of studies and demonstrate work is being done to ensure harm to things like at-risk species and the climate are being mitigated.

The request, however, also represents one of the last chances for advocates to stall the Ford government’s redevelopment plans.

Despite opposition from several prominent candidates in the Toronto mayoral byelection, the province has said its plans are set. Ontario government house leader Paul Calandra recently said the government would press ahead with its redevelopment plans, even if Toronto’s next mayor opposes them.

Some candidates such as Olivia Chow and Josh Matlow have said they will oppose the province’s plan to build a spa and waterpark as well as move the Ontario Science Centre to the site.

“It is going to be an awesome place for the people of (the) province of Ontario, and we will not let obstacles get in the way,” Calandra said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’ve seen this far too often in municipalities across Ontario and when they get in the way, we’ll remove the obstacles and get it done.”

Global News contacted the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada for comment but did not receive a response ahead of publication.

— with files from The Canadian Press

Sponsored content