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Waterfront Toronto has to be better disciplined in spending on Queens Quay project, Toronto Mayor John Tory says.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Mayor John Tory says the city can't afford to do a "half-assed job" on the waterfront, but the agency responsible for the project needs to be "much better disciplined" in its spending.

Mr. Tory's criticism of Waterfront Toronto comes the day after the agency's head defended a 40-per-cent budget overrun on Queens Quay, calling the project "well-managed."

At a news conference on Thursday, the mayor accused the agency of playing down changes made to the scope of the project, and he said the publicly funded agency needs to be more transparent in making decisions.

"I don't want to see us do, frankly, a half-assed job on our waterfront. This is our only waterfront," Mr. Tory said when asked about the agency spending $128-million on Queens Quay – up from the original budget of $93-million.

"However, it is important that when they decide how to do that excellent job, it is done in a transparent manner – and that includes a legitimate, reasonable public debate. … I think what people are offended by is that those discussions did not take place in a public setting, and you find out after the fact."

The agency waited more than a year after voting in a private meeting to increase its budget before announcing it publicly last week.

The Waterfront Toronto board met on Wednesday for the first time with Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong – a frequent critic of the agency – as a new member. Mr. Minnan-Wong was hand-picked to join the board by Mr. Tory.

The board presented information showing that the budget overruns went toward a number of costs, including "third-party work" for telecom companies, staging and traffic management, and "surprises," including unmapped pipes and underground hydro vaults. The costs also included an extra $4.4-million for granite stones and curbs

"I understand the fact that on complicated projects … there are going to be things that arise unexpectedly," Mr. Tory said. "But there were also decisions that were made to change the scope of the project and so on that I think were downplayed a little bit yesterday, and I think we have to get much better disciplined at doing these things."

He would not say whether he will support the agency – which is funded by all three levels of government – in its bid for funding in the future. The agency is expected to run out of money in about three years.

"That's a discussion we're going to have to have," he said.

Meanwhile, Councillor Joe Cressy questioned Mr. Tory's response.

"I think the mayor has said two things on this. I think he's said on the one hand, the waterfront is an important priority. But on the other hand, he's not committing to continuing the mandate of Waterfront Toronto. We need to continue the mandate of Waterfront Toronto," he said.

Mr. Cressy defended the cost overruns on the waterfront by reiterating the complexity of the project, and called the agency's work "tremendous."