January 20, 2021
Late Monday, my office learned that Metrolinx, an agency of the Province of Ontario, initiated expropriation proceedings of the City-owned lands at 271 Front Street East and 25 Berkeley Street, a significant part of the historic First Parliament site. Located in downtown Toronto at the intersection of Front and Parliament Streets, the First Parliament site is a full city block, bounded on the west by Berkeley Street and on the south by Parliament Square Park. It is comparable in size to Nathan Phillip Square.
The historical events and notable people associated with the First Parliament site have shaped this city and province. It is where the first purpose-built parliament buildings were constructed in 1797, establishing York, now Toronto, as the capital of Upper Canada or modern-day Ontario. These buildings represent the early history of local democracy in Canada. My mentor and friend, the late Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell worked hard to acquire these lands for the City, recognizing the potential of such a large site and how it can help build a complete and vibrant community.
This subject location is currently undergoing a Master Plan revitalization strategy to create a vision, guiding planning principles and a plan to develop the site over the next 10 to 20 years. The Master Planning process has engaged thousands of stakeholders and identified partnerships. There have been many community-led recommendations for the site, including a public library, affordable housing, parkland, additional open space and more.
As reported the provincial expropriation is to facilitate the construction of the Ontario Line station that is being planned on the provincially-owned portion of the block at 265 Front Street East. In their written communication, the Province has indicated it seeks to take possession and titled ownership of the First Parliament lands as soon as August 2021. City staff have stated to me that this is an“aggressive” timeline, especially since they received no prior notice of this intended action.
I firmly believe it is important to expedite transit expansion, but am concerned that if these lands are entirely eliminated from the First Parliament Master Plan, it may prevent us from achieving the other important citybuilding aspirations for this site.
The pre-scheduled community consultation meeting for tomorrow, January 21, has now been postponed in an effort from City staff to gather more information from the Province, specifically terms and details of the expropriation. A new date and time for the rescheduled online community meeting will be announced to all interested parties and promoted through the project website as soon as possible.
Given the tragic circumstances surrounding the Dominion Foundry Complex at 153-185 Eastern Avenue and their imminent demolition, this strikes me as another effort from the Province to override the local planning process.
While transit expansion is critical, it should not come at the expense of destroying the cultural heritage of the City of Toronto. Residents and community leaders have been engaged in the assembly of land and the design of the First Parliament Master Plan for years. In order to build complete communities, it is essential to work with impacted stakeholders, business owners, and residents as it makes for a stronger neighbourhood master plan.
I believe that this is the first step to many wherein the Province will yet again shut out the hard work of community stakeholders and City staff.
I urge Metrolinx, and the Government of Ontario to honour the aspirations of Deputy Mayor McConnell. I invite them to collaborate with the City of Toronto and our communities and to find a complementary way to work together to ensure success for the revitalization of the First Parliament site. This cannot be another Provincial example of bulldozing local democracy and our neighbourhood master plans.