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Doug Ford looks on during a news conference at the meeting of the Council of the Federation, where Canada's provincial and territorial leaders meet, in Halifax, on Nov. 6.Kelly Clark/The Canadian Press

More bad news arrived last week for Ontario Premier Doug Ford: The province’s acting Auditor-General, Nick Stavropoulos, is running two fresh investigations about Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre.

Which is excellent news for the public, because Mr. Ford’s plans for those two sites – two beloved public places – stink.

Not of corruption. There’s no evidence of that so far. But the Premier’s efforts to reshuffle the science museum and the waterfront park involve $1-billion in questionable expenditures. This government is spending boatloads of public money on its own priorities with no real explanation.

The auditor has many questions to get answered.

They should begin with Ontario Place, where this week construction company Ellis-Don is already building fences and preparing to chop down trees. (The City of Toronto has given no consent for any of this work.)

In 2021, Mr. Ford’s government announced plans for the waterfront site. The most contentious piece was handing over the six-hectare West Island to Austrian “spa” operator Therme. Architects Diamond Schmitt and planners Urban Strategies are working on the project.

Their plans involve demolishing and rebuilding the entire island. “Demolish an island” is not a phrase you hear often. Neither is “cut down 800 trees and bulldoze a park without a formal environmental review.” But that’s what is planned here.

The Ford government has exempted the Therme project from an environmental review that typically applies to provincial land. It also is exempting it from the provincial heritage review that would usually apply to a site like this. Why?

Then there is the money. The basic contours of this deal remain secret. How much is Therme paying to lease the site for a reported 95 years? How much is the government spending to rebuild the site for them? Initially the province suggested “infrastructure” on the site would cost $200-million. It will almost certainly be more.

Since then, the government has claimed repeatedly that Therme is subsidizing a public park. But that’s almost certainly false. Any payments from Therme are likely far outweighed by public expenditures, including those on a giant proposed public parking garage, and moving the Ontario Science Centre.

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All this appears to be linked.

After Therme made a deal with the government, Mr. Ford’s Infrastructure Ontario announced the garage for Ontario Place. It is a massive project, a million square feet of underground space planned to hold 1,900 parking spaces. Industry estimates suggest this will cost roughly half a billion dollars.

The garage looks like a giveaway to Therme. The government, in its 2019 “call for development” for Ontario Place, made clear that no new parking should be expected on the site – which, after all, is getting a subway station. Yet Therme has counted on a large number of people driving in from across the region. A transportation plan from their consultants LEA suggests 58 per cent of spa customers will arrive by car, which will require 1,000 parking spots on a weekend.

Who made the decision to build this garage? On what grounds? This, too, Mr. Ford has kept secret. Mr. Stavropoulos may be able to get an answer.

It’s time for politicians and planners to say no to the Ontario Place redevelopment plans

To top things off, the Ford government decided to close the Ontario Science Centre and move it wholesale to Ontario Place. This means jettisoning another historic site from the 1960s – the well-loved science centre building in Don Mills, designed by the late Raymond Moriyama. It also means shoehorning the museum into what is, based on current plans, a building roughly half the size of the current one.

Although this idea is not new, the decision was seemingly made in haste. John Carmichael, the science centre’s board chair, said on CBC Radio in April that the decision came as a surprise to him. So who made that decision? When? Why?

One guess: It provides an excuse for the garage. Right now the government is moving ahead with the procurement process to build the science centre and garage in one combined project. (The architects BDP Quadrangle are working on this ignoble effort.)

No part of this equation makes sense. The destruction of the science centre and the building of the “spa” represent inexcusable destruction of Ontario’s collective history. These places need to be preserved and revitalized.

Instead, Mr. Ford is spending vast sums to effectively destroy them both. The garage, infrastructure work at Ontario Place and a new science centre will cost easily $1-billion. What justifies all this wrecking and rebuilding? Who benefits?

On these files, Mr. Stavropoulos will have plenty to tell us. Let’s hope he will do so while there is something left to save.

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