Liberals play havoc with our waterfront

By Stig Harvor –

The federal government is playing devious political games with the ongoing efforts to revitalize our long-neglected waterfront.

Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) depends wholly on funding by the federal, provincial and municipal governments. Despite these governments having pledged a total of $1.5 billion for the work almost four years ago, only $50 million has been forwarded so far.

In March, TWRC faced a cash crunch and potential bankruptcy. The provincial and municipal governments had paid their allocations, but the feds were falling behind. TWRC had to scale back activities and postpone smaller projects. By the end of March, the feds, after long delays, had only paid $5.5 million of the $10 million they owed. TWRC is still awaiting full payment.

Then there is long-serving Liberal MP Dennis Mills of the Toronto-Danforth riding. He is now promoting sports facilities and parks on the waterfront. This is after his advocacy in the past of waterfront casinos and expanded commercial flights at the Island airport helped by a bridge to it. He was also instrumental in the creation of the autocratic Toronto Port Authority five years ago. Mills is noted for his opportunism and showmanship, not consistency.

Mills stood smiling happily beside his prime minister on the Rochester ferry dock just three days before the election call. Martin grandly announced a $125 million federal contribution toward six waterfront park and sports projects recommended by Mills.

It was not new money. It was part of the $500 million pledged by the feds four years ago. In view of the previous federal record of promises made without follow-through action, the question remains if and when the federal money will be released.

Finally, there is the federally appointed, so-called independent agency, the Toronto Port Authority (TPA). It ignores the citizens of Toronto. In its short life, it has distinguished itself by launching big and expensive lawsuits against our city government, first over the ownership of large parcels of land on the Portlands, and later over its failed attempt to substantially increase air traffic at the Island airport.

A recent TPA letter to Mayor David Miller even threatened to start work on an airport bridge by July 1 since the TPA claimed to at last having received all necessary federal approvals. This threat was issued despite the repeated promise by Martin that he will abide by the wishes of the new Toronto city council, which voted against the bridge last December.

At the same time, Martin is waffling on signing a government agreement to kill the bridge. Small wonder Miller demands our city take control of the running of our harbour.

The TPA has been preparing to launch a new, private, fast ferry service across Lake Ontario to Rochester, N.Y. The ferry will take some cars and trucks off the highways. This is obviously a plus. On the other hand, it will also add more cars and trucks to the waterfront.

TPA is way behind in its preparations. On the Rochester side, everything was ready on land for the planned first ferry crossing on May 1. On the Toronto side, not even a temporary passenger and customs building was in place.

TPA was saved embarrassment by delays caused by ferry engine and hull repairs, regulatory sea trials, and squabbling over who should pay for the Canadian Customs services. The tentative, new ferry launch date is mid-June.

It required urging by councilors Pam McConnell and Paula Fletcher before the TPA held its first public meeting about its ferry plans at city hall on April 19. The meeting was regaled with the undoubted quality features of the impressive, Australian-built, 774-passenger, $59-million, 5-storeys-high, fast catamaran ferry that will make three daily crossings of 2-1/4 hours each way.

A plan of the Toronto dock was shown without any clear reference to its location on the Portlands. In response to requests for more details, it became clear the dock is in the Eastern Gap right next to Cherry Beach.

The 238 cars and 10 trucks or buses of a full ferry will reach the dock and leave it via Unwin Ave. and along Cherry St. Public concern was expressed about traffic control, air pollution by idling cars at the dock, the disposal of sewage in the absence of a city sewage network in the area, and the effect of the catamaran’s powerful water propulsion jets on the water quality at Cherry Beach. It seemed the port authority had never thought the public might be interested in such matters.

The past disappointing performance of the federal Liberal government and its numerous Toronto MPs raises the question of whether they will carry through on their promises. Will they responsibly support the wishes of our citizens for a truly remarkable new waterfront created by extensive public participation in its planning?

Meanwhile, most of the TWRC planning work is proceeding. The existing deficiency in sport and playground space in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood would be corrected if the now proposed plans for the new eastern waterfront are realized in the reasonably near future.

The West Donlands plan east of Parliament St. calls for a large park along the Don River with a school and community centre beside it. Sport facilities are included.

The park would inconspicuously accommodate the berm required to prevent flooding of the waterfront area by another fatal storm the magnitude of Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

The berm would consist of a gently sloping rise and fall in the land to a maximum height of 3m (10 ft.). It would all seem part of the landscape.

A much larger 41-acre regional park is proposed along the south side of the mouth of the Don River between the Keating Channel and Commissioners St. from Cherry St. to the Don Roadway. This would be our city’s second largest after High Park.

This regional park is at present called Commissioners Park. It is strategically situated to serve the new communities of the East Bayfront, West Donlands and the Portlands as well as St. Lawrence.

At a well-attended public meeting on April 13, two very different options for the development of Commissioners Park were presented by the design consultants.

Both options accommodated a variety of outdoor, recreational sports, treed and landscaped areas for walks, picnics, family gatherings, and relaxation. The options were called “The Green Room” and “Camouflage Park.”

The Green Room was a vast, flat, strictly rectangular, grass field carved out of a surrounding open forest.

The field would be used for sports of many kinds. It could also house public events such as summer concerts. The urban forest would be for walking and quiet recreation and relaxation.

The puzzling name of Camouflage Park was derived from the visual appearance of its presentation drawing. The drawing showed a patchwork of irregular forms of different colours.

The patchwork was intended to represent a diversity of landforms, treed and open spaces creating varied and dramatic landscapes. Three separated, open fields would be used for team sports. The Camouflage Park design is now being developed in response to the public preference for it.

If we are to achieve the original goal of the TWRC to create “spectacular parks and public spaces,” all levels of government and their agencies must get behind the evolving plans now being developed by the TWRC. Our waterfront would then be green but not in the way envisioned by Dennis Mills.


Sorry. In my May column about “Doors Open,” I got confused among the many big banks in Downtown.

I compared the CIBC traditional banking hall with a modern one that I mistakenly called the Royal Bank.

The freestanding modern one I described is the TD-Canada Trust bank on the southwest corner of Bay and King St. as part of the Toronto-Dominion Centre.