Premier Doug Ford’s government is paying former Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders up to $171,500 a year to be a special adviser on redeveloping Ontario Place from a defunct amusement park on Toronto’s waterfront to a “world-class” attraction.
The government said Mr. Saunders, who retired as Toronto’s top cop at the end of July, would provide “guidance and expert advice” to Mr. Ford and Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture, on the future of the site.
“Mr. Saunders’s intimate knowledge of the diverse communities in Toronto and across Ontario will bring important perspectives to the project, as well as a level of expertise that will help turn our vision for the site into a reality,” Ms. MacLeod said in a statement, adding that Mr. Saunders will work with the city of Toronto, Indigenous communities, stakeholders and businesses on the redevelopment of the project.
Mr. Saunders, a 38-year police veteran, will be paid $700 a day for a maximum of 245 days, or as much as $171,500 a year. The term of his appointment will last until Feb. 24, 2024. He is also a member of the provincial vaccine distribution task force.
Cynthia Wilkey, a member of the advocacy group Ontario Place for All, called Mr. Saunders’s appointment “bizarre” and a “boondoggle” that costs too much money.
“It seems like a really tone-deaf type of appointment,” Ms. Wilkey said. “A public space visionary could be a special adviser on Ontario Place. But a former police chief? It doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t make sense ... Ontario Place is not something that requires policing.”
Mr. Saunders was unavailable for an interview. Derek Rowland, a spokesperson for Ms. MacLeod, said the government has “complete confidence” in Mr. Saunders’s ability as an adviser.
The government launched a call for development on May 28, 2019, and received submissions until Sept. 24 of that year. It is “currently reviewing the submissions,” according to the Ontario Place website.
Ontario Place’s future is a key file for Mr. Ford. After months of speculation about a potential casino at Ontario Place – and vocal opposition from Toronto Mayor John Tory and others – the government ruled out gambling or residential uses. Ms. MacLeod said the land will not be sold, and key heritage and recreational features of the site will remain.
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