Are politics behind Ottawa’s decision to veto $500M 30 Bay Street redevelopment?

Mark McQueen

News report: Federal government to allow commercial redevelopment of Toronto’s “Dominion Public Building”

The fine folks at 60 Harbour Street must feel a bit like Rodney Dangerfield right about now.

For years, PortsToronto has followed accepted best-practices as the agency went about the business of redeveloping the 100 year-old parking lot at 30 Bay Street, across the street from the Air Canada Centre and a few hundred yards south of Revenue Canada’s Dominion Public Building.  PortsToronto ran an RFP to get financial advice on the site, and ran another RFP to find a suitable developer (Oxford and CPPIB).  The team was following the 1999 Act of Parliament that specifically permitted the agency to construct a “World Trade Centre” office tower on the site, so you might say that it was following Parliament’s direct orders.

Every box was checked, every “i” was dotted.

When the Federal Liberals announced that “new infrastructure” and the jobs that accompany such developments would be the hallmark of the incoming government, Toronto’s real estate industry waited patiently for the proposed 44 storey building to be announced over the course of 2016 (see prior post “Liberals to benefit from “free” $500M infrastructure project for Toronto“).  Unfortunately for Toronto’s trades, there wasn’t a peep.

In fact, Ottawa recently wrote to PortsToronto and advised that the project would not be permitted to proceed.  An infrastructure project that would bring $500 million of investment to Toronto, had the written support of Mayor John Tory, would cost the federal treasury nothing, while generating hundreds of millions of dollars of royalties over the years that would be directly reinvested in Toronto’s harbour infrastructure and the increasingly-popular Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

For a government that has boasted about new infrastructure spend, it is a decision that left me scratching my head.  Who in Cabinet would ever turn down something that was free to Canadian taxpayers?

Earlier today, this not-yet-public decision made even less sense when the Liberal government announced that it was going to allow the private sector to redevelop the Dominion Public Building, a site which is merely a block north of PortsToronto’s 30 Bay Street parcel (a project that has been on the drawing board since 2009).

Why ever would the government permit redevelopment of a Depression-era building that’s been a heritage site since 1973, while at that same time block a tailor-made and municipally-supported project that will fill-in what’s currently a vacant parking lot?  Much like the recent pipeline machinations in Western Canada, eyebrows are being raised that local politics are at work and that the area MP, Liberal Adam Vaughan nixed the 30 Bay project out of spite.  After all, some of the royalties from the 30 Bay Street redevelopment would have flowed to Billy Bishop Airport, the very airport that Mr. Vaughan has been trying to strangle for at least a decade (see representative prior post “Adam Vaughan is at it again” Nov. 14-12).

Why else would the Liberals approve one project and veto the other, right next door?  Toronto’s harbour users and BBTCA clientele should be outraged.


(disclosure: this post, like all blogs, is an Opinion Piece reflecting a personal view in no way represents the views of PortsToronto staff or its Board of Directors)

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