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GUEST COLUMN: Toronto soaks up the funding

Published on

Bryan Trothen

The Ontario government is putting $100 million into rehabilitating Ontario Place, the Toronto waterfront facility that has been closed since 2012 after running up a $15-billion debt because visitors stopped coming and revenues declined.

Meanwhile Sarnia is getting no provincial help at all to rehabilitate its waterfront Centennial Park, which was only partly closed in 2013 and never ran up a debt.

The Toronto plan and the conceptual drawings look wonderful. There will be more and better recreational space, a hub of museums and discovery centres, a renovated movie theatre, a re-vamped outdoor concert amphitheatre, and a canal area lined with shops and restaurants. A grand and very enviable proposal!

All of this will be developed in phases, and there is a supposed dollar cap, but there is no definite time line for the whole thing. It is, however, almost a certainty that if there is $100 million to be spent, then $100 million will be spent. In cases like this where there are only vague guidelines, the maximum has an odd way of becoming the minimum.

The first phase will create paths and trails that are supposed to link up with other trails across the province, and that will likely be the basis of a claim that the renovation will benefit the whole province. It is hard not to be sarcastic, but the prospect of an unbroken hiking path from the Howard Watson Trail to Toronto seems very unlikely.

Some of the $100 million allocated for the Toronto showcase will have to go toward an environmental assessment because the facility was built in 1971 on top of landfill. This should sound familiar to us in Sarnia, where Centennial Park was created in 1967 on backfill, which we now know to be dangerously contaminated and very expensive to remediate.

If one purpose of this provincial generosity is to revive Ontario Place as a tourist draw for the city of Toronto, we might wonder what plans the province has to support tourism elsewhere in the province and whether there is another $100 million in the Ontario treasury for similar projects in the rest of the province.

Whatever defence the Minister of Tourism may offer, this scheme to revive Ontario Place is essentially a provincial gift to the city of Toronto, and will do nothing to enhance the quality of life here in Sarnia where even a tenth of that $100 million would go a long way to restoring Centennial Park, benefitting this community, and maybe even creating an attraction to draw tourists here to Sarnia-Lambton.

 Bryan Trothen is a community volunteer with a strong interest in the social, cultural, and political issues that affect Sarnia

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