The governing Ontario Liberal Party seems to be setting a pattern: one general election, another scandal.
I suppose we should feel lucky this time, since the cost to taxpayers are expected to be just under $500-million rather than the $1.2-billion we faced in the 2011 gas plant scandal.
This time round, Kathleen Wynne’s government plans to rescue the troubled Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) research centre in downtown Toronto near Queens Park. The Grits intend to buy the MaRS phase 2 tower for $317-million and—one expects—adapt it to office space for government employees who currently work elsewhere.
According to one media report I read, the government is faced with an additional $160-million for renovations and “operating shortfalls.” That’s right, by the time this deal shakes out, taxpayers will have shelled out close to $500-million.
This new scandal was disclosed in cabinet documents that include high-level reports, which were obtained from a whistleblower by Former Tory MPP Frank Klees.
MaRS is a not-for-profit registered charity funded in part by the province. Their aim is to foster innovation and research. Apparently, though, the project stalled and MaRS is unable to fully lease out their phase 2 tower, an up-market 20-storey facility—about 31 per cent of the building is leased. This places MaRS in a position where it lacks the lease revenue to repay a $234-million provincial loan.
So, to save MaRS the embarrassment of defaulting—which could complicate their other business interests—Kathleen Wynne’s government plans, in effect, to wipe out the loan by purchasing the building for $317-million.
Kathleen Wynne, according to a Toronto Star report, “downplayed the documents, saying they are simply the outline of a real estate deal that would consolidate a number of government offices and agencies—and potentially save money in the process. Wynne said that no final deal had been made.”
That’s right, move along, nothing to see here.
But wait, where is the evidence the government was even looking for 20 stories of office space to begin with? Why do the Liberals believe this company, above all, deserves a massive taxpayer bailout? What about the dozens of small Ontario business owners who are struggling in these uncertain economic times?
And why would Kathleen Wynne be even considering this outlay at a time when the province has such serious debt issues?
Earlier this month, the Liberals’ former finance minister Dwight Duncan said, “Ontario is faced with a staggering debt.” He then called for the Government to “fundamentally re-evaluate its role.”
Furthermore, hasn’t Wynne not heard Moody’s Investors Service’s warning that Ontario’s net debt in the 2014-15 fiscal year is 237.7 per cent of revenue, the highest in the country and above even Quebec, which is at only 189.5 per cent.
Moreover, Charles Sousa, Wynne’s current Minister of Finance, said publicly that the province would “over the next year or so” sell the Queens Quay headquarters of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the University Avenue offices of Ontario Power Generation.
What a mess! Moody’s Investors Service is warning of a down-graded credit rating, while Wynne’s government is going off in all directions without seeming to have a consistent plan for managing the province’s finances. Wynne’s buying fancy office space; Charles Sousa’s selling fancy office space. Go figure.
This latest bailout has the earmarks of another of what the National Post calls “a long list of boondoggles, scandals, bailouts and financial follies.” Lucky us, though, this one’s only half what it cost us to move a couple of gas plants to save the Liberals a few seats in the last general election.
Why don’t I feel lucky?