Ontario Place isn't a plaything for Doug Ford
Appointing the man who was responsible for Ontario Place while it went downhill in the late 1990s and early 2000s to lead a “fresh and innovative” revamp of the waterfront site obviously makes little sense.
The only thing that can be said for the appointment of Jim Ginou as board chair is that he’s made it clear just why he was tapped for the job. Ginou, a longtime Conservative fundraiser and Ford family friend, was brought in to do whatever Premier Doug Ford wants.
Normally this sort of thing is assumed with the appointment of a political ally but is vigorously denied in public. But Ginou has helpfully set aside that usual pretense by stating things quite plainly.
“There is nothing that can be saved,” Ginou said of Ontario Place. “Because it has to be rebuilt, it can be rebuilt in any way that Ford wants it to be rebuilt.”
It doesn’t get any clearer than that. No matter that this is a massive swath of valuable public property, Ginou knows his job is to please one man alone — his friend the premier.
That’s troubling, both as a matter of principle and as a practical measure. It is, of course, Ontarians who should have a say in the redevelopment of 51 hectares on the shore of Lake Ontario. And Ford has already shown himself to have some truly terrible ideas for Toronto’s waterfront.
During Ford’s term as a Toronto councillor his ideas for the waterfront included a megamall and a gambling complex.
Those are gimmicks more than the thoughtful development proposals that this site — originally created as a showcase and focal point for Ontario — deserves.
And there’s always concern when it comes to waterfront land that a government lacking in vision, as Ford’s seems to be, will simply sell the land to condo developers, with no requirement for public space or access to the water.
Ontario Place is a big site so there are plenty of possibilities for a mix of parks, recreational, entertainment and cultural spaces, and possibly some private development to help fund it and ensure year-round use. Robust public consultation should help to determine its best future use.
Right now, there’s a stronger public consensus on what shouldn’t happen there than what should.
As urban designer Ken Greenberg puts it: “What shouldn’t happen is a fire sale of this public resource to a kind of festival entertainment site that would turn it over to the private sector, or treat it as a destination venue disconnected from the public waterfront.”
That’s what the Ford government has already allowed to happen on the eastern waterfront. The landmark decommissioned Hearn power generating station was sold for a song last November, along with 16 hectares of land, to Studios of America, owned in part by prominent developer Mario Cortellucci, a Ford supporter and campaign donor.
Then in December, the government took back control of Ontario Place from the public corporation that had been overseeing it. That sets the stage for the province to, once again, run roughshod over decisions made by Toronto council regarding the waterfront, including its opposition to a casino.
The appointment of Ginou is the next step in a process seemingly rigged to achieve Ford’s desired outcome for the waterfront — whatever that may be.
It’s all been done so brazenly that one has to wonder why Tourism Minister Michael Tibollo even bothered going through the motions of suggesting otherwise. “We know that (Ginou) will serve the people of Ontario well in his new capacity,” Tibollo’s office said in a statement.
But Ontarians already know who he’s really there to serve.