Liberal MPPs blocked all attempts Tuesday by opposition members to get detailed financial information on the money-losing MaRS office tower in the shadow of Queen’s Park.
Speaking at the legislature’s estimates committee, Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier asked Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid to supply, among other things, a business plan that led to the Liberal government loaning MaRS $224 million to build the now near-empty 20-storey tower.
The Liberal government used its majority on the committee to deny this and all attempts to make public agreements and business plans involved in the deal for the MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) tower.
“Even though they (Liberals) talk a good talk about openness and transparency, we are not seeing anything about transparency, anything about openness and they are preventing the public from seeing how the minister is spending their money,” said Hillier (Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington).
The Grit MPPs argued the information requested either contained commercially sensitive information or claimed that the research and innovation minister should provide the details even though Infrastructure Ontario lent MaRS the money.
Hillier said the Liberal roadblocks only prove the government is willing to go to great lengths to prevent the public from getting to bottom of the MaRS financial debacle.
In January, MaRS told the province it could no longer make payments on the $224-million loan, leaving taxpayers holding the bag to the tune of $450,000 a month in interest payments.
On top of the outstanding loan, the government last month bought out the U.S.-based developer, Alexandria Real Estate, to the tune of $65 million, bringing the total bailout to $309 million.
“I support openness and transparency but at the right time,” Liberal MPP Han Dong (Trinity-Spadina) told the committee.
NDP MPP Percy Hatfield (Windsor-Tecumseh) argued that “we are just trying to get to the bottom of whether this was a good deal.
“We want to know if indeed what was put into this project was in the interest of the taxpayer,” Hatfield said, adding the Liberal committee members have prevented that from happening.
Other details requested by Hillier and denied included:
• A copy of the MaRS mortgage agreement.
• A copy of the $65-million purchase agreement by MaRS and Alexandria Real Estate.
Duguid did provide a one-page opinion from Ernst and Young on the estimated value of the building, which he acknowledged he incorrectly described previously as a report.