Sidestepping environmental and transparency concerns, the Ford government will use a powerful new planning tool to fast-track redevelopment of Ontario Place.

On Friday, the provincial government announced that it had introduced an enhanced Ministerial Zoning Order (eMZO) to expedite plans for the popular waterfront recreation area. Issued by unilateral decree from Queen’s Park, eMZOs also permit the government to avoid parts of Toronto’s planning process.

“To ensure the Ontario Place rebuild continues without delays, the government made an enhanced Minister’s Zoning Order (eMZO) to provide development permissions for new and existing land uses at Ontario Place,” said Kinga Surma, Ontario's minister of infrastructure, in a statement. “Building on last year’s historic new deal with the City of Toronto, the province is taking the next steps in its plan to rebuild Ontario Place into a world-class, year-round destination with expanded parks and public spaces, increased waterfront access, a new public marina and family-friendly entertainment.”

According to the government statement, the eMZO will allow the province to control site plans, improve public open space on the East Island and expand public spaces and parks on the West Island as part of the redevelopment of Ontario Place.

The government's Ontario Place plan has faced substantial public opposition, primarily over the loss of green space and secretive long-term lease land transfers to Therme. The Austrian resort developer was granted a 95-year lease from the government to build a private spa at Ontario Place on Toronto's West Island waterfront, currently used as a popular picnic and park area.

The decision to lease the land to Therme was made behind closed doors and presented to the public as a done deal.

"Ontario Place for All is disappointed that the MZO process is being used to steal city-owned land at Ontario Place and place it into the control of a private MegaSpa for 95 years,” said Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of the advocacy group, in an emailed response. The group is fighting the government plan in an ongoing court challenge.

"Given this government's corrupt track record with MZOs, giving the Ministry of Infrastructure access to the MZO tool sets a terrible precedent for our public institutions,” he said.

The group is concerned that the questionable actions the Ford government is taking to privatize Ontario Place will be applied to other public institutions in the near future, Di Pasquale added. “Shame on this government that refuses to consult properly or follow any laws or processes as they move to obliterate West Island.”

The Ford government's Ontario Place plan has faced substantial public opposition, primarily over the loss of green space and secretive long-term lease land transfers to Therme. #OntarioPlace #onpoli.

The group said the proposed West Island redevelopment will eradicate the ecosystem that has thrived for five decades, removing about 840 trees, including over 600 mature ones. All existing vegetation and landscape contours by architect Michael Hough will be leveled. The project will also fill lagoons and waterways, destroying about 36,000 square meters of aquatic habitat to add roughly 12 acres to the island.

Last year, Ontario's auditor general announced they would conduct value-for-money audits on the Ontario Place redevelopment, including the West Island, and the decision to relocate the Ontario Science Centre to Toronto's waterfront within Ontario Place.

The province's plan to redevelop Ontario Place includes a renovated Live Nation amphitheatre, as well as a publicly accessible park and waterfront area. The Cinesphere, which houses the world's first IMAX theatre, will be preserved under the plan. The province will contribute $650 million to enhance existing infrastructure and maintain the site's historical elements. These enhancements include a new underground parking garage with 2,000 spaces and an additional 600 ground-level spaces.

“Ontario Place will consist of more than 50 acres or almost 40 football fields worth of free public parks, beaches and green spaces,” reads the government statement. “With the new Ontario Science Centre and Therme Canada’s year-round destination for fun and wellness, as well as the updated, year-round Live Nation concert venue, Ontario Place will offer experiences everyone of all ages can enjoy.”

While both Therme and the Ford government have refrained from publicly disclosing the contract's specifics, citing confidentiality, the Austrian firm said it is injecting nearly half a billion dollars into Ontario Place. This financial commitment includes $350 million to build the 65,000-square-foot private spa and an additional $100 million for portions that will remain publicly accessible.

The company claims the lengthy contract is essential to recover its multimillion-dollar investment. Since the original lease was awarded, Therme amended its development application to allocate about 16 acres of public parkland on the West Island for a new beach, boardwalk and cycling trails.

The province owns most of the Ontario Place site, except about 16 acres controlled by the City of Toronto. Toronto initially opposed the redevelopment of Ontario Place and the relocation of the Ontario Science Centre, but later allowed the province to take charge of Ontario Place's redevelopment in an agreement.

Last year, Toronto mayor Olivia Chow told Canada’s National Observer that she needs to work with the province to achieve her climate goals. Chow expressed anger about the environmental impact of the Ontario Place proposals. She emphasized the importance of public engagement and continued dialogue with those pushing for sustainable development that doesn’t compromise natural habitats.

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The corruption by Doug Ford and his government knows no bounds. This secret deal should be investigated fully, and in particular, reveal fully who is benefiting from this secret deal. Doug does nothing unless his corrupt donors benefit from these decisions.

This Conservative government IS environmentally illiterate. We are LIVING IN "REAL-TIME " CLIMATE CHANGE CRISIS AND BIODIVERSITY LOSS CRISIS as declared by every G7 country / United Nation and many vulnerable countries experiencing esculating change disasters across the globe. Ontario continues to push regulations to make it easy for them
to proceed with assault
after assault on our Natural Heritage that is critical to mitigating the impacts of climate change and keeping OUR COMMUNITIES "SAFE AND HEALTHY" for next generations. MIND-BOGGLING POLITICAL IRRESPONSIBILITY AND GREED.