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Waterfront Toronto chair defends 40 per cent budget overrun

An artist rendering shows the Martin Goodman Trail, a multiuse trail located along Queens Quay south of the LRT tracks.

Waterfront Toronto

The chair of Waterfront Toronto says work on Queens Quay that is 40 per cent over budget was "well-managed," arguing the agency's decision to wait more than a year to make public details of the cost overruns saved money.

Waterfront Toronto chairman Mark Wilson defended the $128-million price tag, up from $93-million, to upgrade the 1.7-kilometre section of street along the harbour, describing it as "Toronto's face to the world."

"This is not a runaway project. This is a project that's been very carefully, professionally well-managed," he said on Wednesday after a presentation to the board to explain the overruns.

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The meeting was the first for deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a frequent critic of the agency who was appointed to the board by Mayor John Tory earlier this month. He joins at a crucial time for the agency, which is expected to use up the initial money it received in 2003 from the city, federal and provincial governments in about three years and is asking for authority to borrow to finance its work.

Mr. Tory was critical of the cost overruns last week when they were made public and of the delay in releasing them, saying in a statement he was concerned about "the lack of transparency and timeliness in reporting these costs."

During the meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Wilson and other members of the board praised the work of staff in keeping the cost overruns from going higher. Not disclosing the extent of the extra costs for more than a year allowed the agency to reach settlements with contractors that were more than $4-million less than it anticipated, he said.

Mr. Minnan-Wong had a different take. He argued the agency should have included more contingency funds in its budget given the location of the project. "They've got to sharpen their pencils and be smarter and more strategic about how much money they put into their budgets," he said.

He also questioned whether the agency is doing enough to inform the public about its operations, requesting that it post staff reports on its website before board meetings, as is the practice at the City of Toronto for committee and council meetings. "In my view, Waterfront Toronto should be looking at reasons to be more open, not excuses for why they shouldn't disclose things earlier," Mr. Minnan-Wong said.

In response to the request from the deputy mayor, Waterfront Toronto staff showed the board a spreadsheet comparing its disclosure practices with those of other city agencies such as Build Toronto and Invest Toronto.

"If you look at the rest of the public agencies, very simply, we're the best," Mr. Wilson told reporters.

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The board referred Mr. Minnan-Wong's request to a board committee for further study.

In the case of Queens Quay, information presented to the board showed that the original $93-million budget included a 25 per cent contingency fund that was depleted in addition to the extra $36-million required for the project. It attributed the biggest portion of the extra costs, more than $11-million, to "third party work," done for telecom companies, Toronto Hydro and the TTC. Other cost overruns include an extra $7-million for staging and traffic management, $5.9-million to address "surprises" such as unmapped pipes and underground hydro vaults and an extra $4.4-million for buying granite stones and curbs.

"Our responsibility is to develop a great waterfront," Mr. Wilson said, defending the agency's work. "I think we are delivering incredible value for Toronto."

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