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Doug Ford government taken to court over Ontario Place development

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An injunction has been filed to stop the provincial government from developing the West Island of Ontario Place, arguing the building of a private spa will result in the “complete obliteration of the naturalized ecosystem.”

The court application was filled by grassroots advocacy group Ontario Place for All late last week and calls for a pause on development until an environmental assessment is conducted.

“The respondents intend to redevelop the West Island of Ontario Place, which involves, in part, building a massive glass spa. In doing so, they intend to destroy the West Island of Ontario Place by cutting down 840 trees, levelling the historic heritage landscape, and filling in portions of the lakefront,” the court documents say.

The redevelopment of Ontario Place along Toronto’s waterfront has garnered significant criticism since it was first announced in 2021.

Community groups and local politicians have taken issue with the building of a large spa and multi-level parking garage on the land, as well as the relocation of North York’s Ontario Science Centre.

Austrian-based resort company Therme, who has signed a reported 95-year lease with the province, released updated designs this summer in hopes of quelling some of the concerns. The design added four more acres of public parkland and reduced the height of the spa.

However Norm DiPasquale, co-chair of Ontario Place for All, has said the development will still negatively impact wildlife and create further gridlock.

“The West Island Redevelopment will involve the complete obliteration of the naturalized ecosystem on the West Island that has evolved over the past 50 years, including the removal of every tree (approximately 840 trees, of which over 600 are mature trees) and all vegetation, levelling of the internationally recognized Michael Hough landscape contouring, and filling the lagoons and small waterways on the West Island,” Ontario Place for All argues in the injunction.

Court documents also cite a risk to aquatic habitats.

The court documents claim the government has argued an environmental assessment of the land is not necessary as the redevelopment is a “private undertaking by Therme.”

The Doug Ford government is also asking the courts to prevent the federal government from using the Impact Assessment Act to delay or stop them from moving ahead with Ontario Place construction.

The province appears to be moving forward with the project regardless of the criticism. Earlier this month, large wooden fences were erected around some of the land. Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said in a statement that utility upgrade work is being conducted.

Speaking in the Legislature, Surma said that an environmental assessment on site servicing work was completed Friday and will be made public.

She stressed that the designs for Ontario Place include the planting of trees as well as aquatic and shoreline protections.

“Let me tell you what Ontario place looks like right now. It’s mostly paved. The marina is rusting. The island is flooding. This is not a place where people bring their families any more,” she said.

“We are bringing Ontario place back to life.”

The Ontario NDP accused the government of conducting “environmental vandalism.”

“It’s flooding so the government’s solution is to put in an underground parking garage? I mean everything about this deal is fishy,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said. “The government’s hands are all over the Ontario place development.”

Meanwhile the City of Toronto approved a request to look into the feasibility of moving the Therme facility to Exhibition Place instead, noting it already has a large amount of parking and access to transit. The report is set to return to council in December; however Therme has said it does not have any intention of changing their plans.

“As a future tenant of Ontario Place, we will continue to work with all levels of government and our Indigenous partners to advance this revitalization project and address such challenges as the contaminated soil and the eroding shoreline,” a spokesperson for Therme Canada told CTV News Toronto in a statement.

The office of Ontario’s auditor general will also be conducting audits on both Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre, although few details have been released regarding the scope of the review.

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