Ford needs to be straight with taxpayers on Science Centre plans

Author: Jay Goldberg 2023/04/25

In trying to rationalize moving the Ontario Science Centre to the grounds of the now-shuttered Ontario Place, Premier Doug Ford is making himself look like a used car salesman.

Ontario taxpayers are the driver bringing a car back to the dealership to get some work done on the brakes. Instead of providing a quote on fixing the brakes, Ford is trying to sell the driver on a brand-new car. Ford won’t tell the driver how much the repairs would cost, but he’s trying to sell the idea that somehow a new car will cost less.

It becomes obvious pretty quickly that salesman Ford’s story doesn’t pass the smell test.

As part of the government’s sales pitch, Ford and his cabinet are trying to convince Ontarians that the present Science Centre is crumbling before our very eyes.  

Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma has said the Ontario Science Centre is in a state of “disrepair” and that the building “is falling apart.”

That might be news to tourists who continue to flock to the Ontario Science Centre given that it’s still open.

Rather than fix the present Science Centre, the Ford government is planning to build a brand-new facility on the grounds of the old Ontario Place. But building a new facility will take time and a lot of taxpayer dough.

Surma told the press that under the government’s new plan, the present Science Centre will stay where it is until at least 2025, when construction of the new facility is expected to be complete.

Given that it’s the government running the show on this one, no one would be surprised if the time horizon gets even longer. After all, the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, another signature government project, is more than three years behind schedule.

But Surma’s plan raises obvious questions.

If the present building really is in a state of “disrepair” and “falling apart,” how is it that the government can confidently say the building can remain open for another three years, at a minimum?

Surma actually hinted at the idea that some of the needed repairs will go ahead at the present Science Centre grounds in the interim, further undermining the government’s case for building a brand-new facility.

Having taxpayers pay to fix up the present facility, only to have it torn down in 2025 and replaced by apartment buildings, doesn’t seem like a sound use of taxpayer dollars.

The government keeps saying it’s done a business case analysis and that the move makes sense.

“The business case analysis did show us that it was less expensive to bring the Science Centre here as part of the redevelopment of Ontario Place,” said Surma.

But thus far, Surma and Ford have refused to make the business case analysis public. They won’t even say if selling the Science Centre land to allow for the building of new homes is part of that analysis.

Which brings us back to the car salesman.

Just like the driver who brought the car into the dealership, Ontarians want to see the numbers. If getting something brand new makes more sense than fixing up something that only needs a little bit of work, taxpayers need to see the numbers.

The Ford government needs to acquaint itself with a little thing called transparency. This isn’t the first time the government has tried to sell Ontario taxpayers on an idea that seems too good to be true. We’re still waiting to find out how many billions Ford handed over to Volkswagen in his secretive corporate welfare deal. If politicians want buy-in from the public on costly initiatives that don’t seem to represent value for money, they need to be straight with taxpayers.

Transparency means making the business case analysis public. That’s the only way Ontarians can feel comfortable with the spin that the government is selling.

With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, the Ford government must do exactly that.

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