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Ontario Conservatives press Wynne over cost of MaRS bailout

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, right, speaks with supporters during a campaign stop in Toronto on June 1.


The Ontario Progressive Conservatives are demanding that the Liberals disclose the full cost of bailing out a not-for-profit research organization, as Leader Kathleen Wynne continues to take fire for the transaction days before a crucial televised debate.

The Liberals are looking to pay $317-million for a downtown Toronto tower built by MaRS, which was facing financial trouble after it could not find enough tenants for the building. But government documents show taxpayers might be on the hook for additional costs, including subsidizing MaRS's operating budget and setting up the office space.

The Liberal plan is to move civil servants into the building, along with other tenants.

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"Floor after floor of empty offices for the new bureaucrats [Ms. Wynne] plans to hire – one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in Canada," PC finance critic Vic Fedeli said Sunday, standing in front of the building. "Kathleen Wynne has just used your tax dollars to purchase the Trump Tower of Canadian bureaucracy."

Mr. Fedeli called on Ms. Wynne to reveal the exact price tag for MaRS before Tuesday's debate.

"Voters deserve to know the full truth before election day – the truth of what really in coming next," he said. "This Liberal government is going to plunge Ontario into an even deeper deficit than we're already in."

The Liberals said Sunday the numbers in the documents are not final, and that the government does not know what a deal would ultimately cost. Negotiations over the matter were suspended because of the election, the Grits maintained.

"As Mr. Fedeli knows, the fact we are in a writ period makes his request impossible to fulfill just as it makes it impossible for the Cabinet to finalize the negotiations," spokeswoman Rebecca MacKenzie wrote in an email. "The document the PCs are referring to was draft and the numbers were not final. Because the PCs and NDP teamed up to force an election the decision never came to Treasury Board. A decision on how to proceed would only have been made based on final numbers."

Ms. Wynne contends that the MaRS transaction is good for the government, as it will allow the consolidation of several offices in one place. But she has not discussed the details of the deal, saying it is not yet final.

Most polls indicate the election is a tight race between the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, with neither party having an edge just 11 days before the vote. As such, the debate will be closely watched as a possible turning point.

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The government helped the organization get the project started with a loan and a grant. But when it became apparent MaRS couldn't make the completed tower viable, the government agreed to buy it instead.

The deal was revealed in confidential cabinet documents leaked to the PCs, who made them public last week.

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