Toronto MPP Bhutila Karpoche on saving Ontario Place and running for mayor

When Toronto MPP Bhutila Karpoche tore into the Ford government over the hundreds of millions of dollars the Province is planning on spending for a 2000+ vehicle parking lot to be included as part of the proposed luxury spa to be built at the Ontario Place site, it was a call to others to get serious in the defence of this cherished public space. A development application for the Therme Spa is now with the city of Toronto, and even though there is apparently some work being done at the marina in the area in preparation for construction, the application is not approved. However, Premier Ford does have a history of running roughshod over Toronto’s democracy so maybe that doesn’t even matter. We tracked down the Parkdale MPP to ask her what she thinks.

What is your main concern with with this proposal for Ontario Place?

So the premier had announced his intention to redevelop Ontario Place. And I think everybody in Ontario, particularly residents of Toronto, and folks who access and enjoy the waterfront had hoped that the plan would engage the public in a conversation about the future of Ontario Place. And, the really big concern is the proposed development and how the government is managing the Province’s, I will say very valuable resources.

I just looked online briefly, it seems like there’s some sort of construction activity already like taking place at the marina. How’s how’s that possible?

You know, this is not surprising. And in fact, we have seen this happen with a number of other sites, where there was a lack of information, a complete lack of transparency on the government’s plans, and government actually moving ahead without notice.

Like the foundry site, is that what you are referring to?  

I’m thinking of the foundry site, yes.

Now we know, like the foundry site, we know, the Premier can just push this thing through, he has the tools, and he certainly has no issue using them. So what is the hope? 

Well, the thing is, is that the Premier and the Government of Ontario is supposed to comply with certain processes that are in place. And that is not happening. For example, when you think about Ontario Place there is the heritage aspect of it, and the environment aspect of it. And there are a lot of checks and balances, which are very important that need to be done prior to the development happening. And none of that has happened. So, really, it’s not that the government can choose to do what they want, it’s that the government is not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Ontario place
Therme Group

What does Ontario Place mean to you in this moment in time in Toronto on a personal and community level?

So I represent the riding of Parkdale-High Park and Ontario Place, although technically not within the riding boundaries, is like the backyard of the residents of Parkdale-High Park and I would say particularly in South Parkdale where it is quite dense. There are lots of high-rise apartment buildings. That is a public space,  a green space where the residents go to enjoy to relax and go for a walk and access the waterfront. It’s been such a valuable resource to the people of Toronto, for sure, but particularly, I would say for Parkdale High Park, because Ontario Place is our backyard. And we will lose access to that.

The history of the site is that it wasn’t really just a park space, right? It was basically an amusement park that charged admission. There’s two concert stages. So what what would you like to see there?

My vision for Ontario Place is a public park that is accessible to residents of Toronto and Ontario year round. You know, we don’t have enough of these spaces in the city and to lose a free space really a public space, it’s irreversible.  I think that, for me, it’s the public good. That a space like this brings together our communities and our city in a way that I really hope we can maintain.

There’s been a lot of talk about the parking facility, something you focussed on at Queens Parks. That’s a huge and very expensive facility we are subsidising right?

Yes, I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback on my speech. Most people had no idea even what the government’s plans were for the space. And really, the reaction is two parts. One is the shocking level of public subsidy for this developer, and the lack of transparency around it. And then the other side is, you know, the disregard for the heritage and environmental conservation and the loss of public space. I think when you think about the proposed development, it is wrong on so many levels. There is no value for money for Ontarians. To subsidize a spot like this, it just makes no sense. The other thing is, and I mentioned this in my statement, the Ontario line is going to have a stop at Ontario Place. So public dollars also going to a parking lot with 2000 spots? Where’s the sense in that? Which is why the official opposition, the NDP, has requested an audit of this proposal to the Auditor General of Ontario.

And it’s with the city for review now, have you heard anything there?

Most of the information that we do have right now, about the plans for Ontario Place is because of the development application that this private developer has put into the city. Because from this conservative government, there has been absolutely no information and a lack of transparency. I expect that we will find out more. And I really hope that now that it is at the city level there is going to be a process where the public will have an opportunity to give their feedback and thoughts on this as well.

Obviously, we’re having an election in Toronto in a couple months, what is your expectation in terms of what a new mayor might be able to do here?

I think the new mayor will have to play certainly play a role and not be pushed around by the Province and Premier and really take a stand on behalf of the people of Toronto because Torontonians do not want to lose this public space.

Your name has come up on a number of occasions as a potential candidate. Are you considering that option?

I’ve received a lot of encouragement and I have said that I’m thinking about it. I’m talking to people from across the city. And I truly believe that we need a new direction for Toronto. Everybody’s worn down by the last 12 years of austerity. We need to go in a new direction.

So you’re on Team Thinking About It?

Yes. It’s a big team of those who have not officially announced.