Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Feds say no to giving Downsview Park to Toronto
“The federal government will not consider transferring responsibility of Downsview to the city,” Alyson Queen, spokeswoman for Public Works Minister Diane Finley, told the Star in an email on Tuesday.
The response comes less than 24 hours after Councillor Maria Augimeri launched a bid for municipal control of the 231-hectare property at Keele St. and Sheppard Ave. W.
Augimeri kicked off the initiative after the Star’s report on a secret memo from December 2012, just weeks after the public works department gave a Crown land management company control of Downsview.
In the memo, Deputy Minister Michelle d’Auray expressed concern that without direction from the minister, the commercially focused Canada Lands Co. could be inclined to propose selling off the parkland.
As d’Auray observed, the commercial focus of Canada Lands Co. was at odds with the mandate of Parc Downsview Park, which previously oversaw the property. Parc Downsview Park was dedicated to managing “the Downsview lands as a national urban park for all Canadians,” she said.
Augimeri said Tuesday that she would continue her campaign, adding that the government had “botched the Downsview Park file.”
“They have a proven history of hiding the truth from the citizens of Downsview,” she said. “Who knows what’s in the works behind the scenes right now?”
The memo was obtained through a freedom of information request, along with a “secret” scoping study of the parent company Canada Lands Co. Ltd. and its three subsidiaries — Canada Lands Co., Parc Downsview Park and Old Port of Montreal — presented to public works in January 2012.
Queen did not say why the minister would not entertain the idea of giving Downsview to the city, but the study obtained by the Star may offer some insight.
In the study, consulting group Sussex Circle advised the federal government against handing over Downsview to the City of Toronto because it would mean giving away a valuable asset.
“One consideration militating against this option is that government policy is not to give away assets, especially assets as valuable as Downsview,” states the study, labelled “secret.”
“While this is possible, there is no guarantee that the city of Toronto would wish to take over responsibility for the park, even with the revenue potential from development of the five neighbourhoods,” the study said.
Giving the city control of the surplus army base — which the federal government declared “Canada’s first urban national park” in 1999 — was one of several options presented in the study.
The city was never consulted about this option, according to a public works spokesman.
Another idea, described in the study as “fairly far-fetched,” was to transfer responsibility for Downsview to the province.
In an email on Tuesday, Andrea Arbuthnot, a spokeswoman for Ontario’s Ministry of Infrastructure, told the Star the province “would be open to discussing the future of the land” at Downsview Park, but had not yet been involved in such discussions.
The future of development in Downsview has long been the subject of fierce debate, and some observers questioned the federal government’s decision to give control of the park to a Crown company with expertise in selling land just as it seemed progress was being made on the park’s development.
Augimeri said Monday she had received information that Canada Lands Co. was planning to revisit the secondary plan, which governs future land use in the area, although she refused to reveal her source.
Both Canada Lands Co. and the federal government have repeatedly denied that any such plans are in the works — a sentiment Queen reiterated on Tuesday.
“The federal government has no intention of selling the parkland,” she said.
Canada Lands Co. is holding a public meeting on the future of Downsview at the Warehouse Event Venue on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
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