Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government couldn’t run a hotdog stand let alone a downtown Toronto office building, veteran Tory MPP Ted Arnott says.
Arnott grilled Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid on Tuesday before the legislature’s estimates committee, which scrutinizes government spending, about the $309 million bailout of Phase 2 of the troubled 20-storey MaRS tower in the shadow of Queen’s Park.
“We are not satisfied with the answers we heard today. We don’t have confidence that the government can run a hotdog stand let alone a downtown office building like this one,” the member for Wellington-Halton
Hills told reporters afterward.
Arnott told the committee Liberals appear to have learned nothing from the spending scandals at eHealth and the ORNGE air ambulance service, or the debacle involving the decision to cancel and relocate two gas plants at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion.
“From our perspective . . . we see parallels between this and what happened at eHealth, the cancelled gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville, the ORNGE air ambulance fiasco and we wonder if the government has learned a single thing — hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money being thrown around with very little accountability, very little scrutiny,” he said.
MaRS, which stands for Medical and Related Sciences, got in over its head with its Phase 2 tower, which turned off prospective tenants off with exorbitant lease rates — then dictated by a U.S.-based real estate company.
Word of the government bailout leaked out during the spring provincial election and since then, the Liberals have acknowledged negotiations were going on even before the election.
“Obviously the government wouldn’t have wanted that information to come out prior to the election . . . obviously the government had something to hide,” Arnott told reporters.
More recently the government announced it was paying out $65 million to buy out the American-owned developer, Alexandria Real Estate (ARE).
“Frankly that is being done to allow the government to consider a series of alternatives with regard to the future of Phase 2 of MaRS,” Duguid told the committee, adding later that one of the options to be considered is selling the office tower, which currently is only 31 per cent occupied.
“The fact of the matter is the value of the asset is equal to or more than any investment the government has made,” Duguid said, noting the estimated value — given that it isn’t fully leased — ranges from $309 million to almost $331 million.
Duguid emphasized a decision has not been made yet as to what to do with Phase 2.
In the meantime, Public Health Ontario is moving its massive infectious disease lab to the top four floors of the tower at a cost of $86 million.