Ontario Government Paid $70,000 for Advice It Can’t Find Any Record Of

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request filed by NDP Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Chris Glover, it has been revealed that Mark Saunders, the former Toronto police chief who served as a Special Advisor on Ontario Place development, did not provide any proof of recommendations, reports, or advice to Premier Doug Ford or the Minister of Tourism during his tenure in the role.

Saunders assumed the position on February 25, 2021, and his term concluded just before the June 2022 election. Despite his appointment and subsequent involvement in political campaigns, no records were found related to his work as a Special Advisor during the FOI request.

The FOI request also disclosed that Saunders was slated to receive up to $171,000 for his role, but a government source has confirmed that he was paid $70,000 during his one-year and four-month tenure, and he was not tasked with producing any reports.

“What advice have they received from Mr. Saunders on his $170,000-a-year salary and there’s nothing, they can’t provide a single piece of information. So, I think Ontarians have a lot of questions,” NDP leader Marit Stiles said during Question Period Thursday after Glover asked if the premier can show any evidence that Saunders produced any advice.

“This isn’t just anyone, this is a close ally of the premier’s,” Stiles added.

During his time as Special Advisor, Saunders led weekly meetings related to Ontario Place, facilitating communication between the premier’s office, the City of Toronto, and various stakeholders, including First Nations communities, as the government developed its vision for Ontario Place.

Ontario Place, initially opened in 1971, has been a focal point of redevelopment discussions. The Ford government unveiled its vision for the site earlier this year, including plans for a year-round concert stage by LiveNation, relocating the Ontario Science Centre, and a water park and wellness center by Therme Group. 

Critics have raised concerns about transparency, particularly regarding Therme’s involvement, as no environmental assessment was conducted due to its private nature. Opposition leaders are also seeking more information about the 95-year deal the province signed with Therme and have tabled a motion to cancel the agreement.

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