MaRS funding investigated by Ontario's auditor general

Ontario's auditor general is looking into the Liberals’ financial dealings with MaRS in downtown Toronto as part of a regular annual audit of infrastructure funding. The PCs last week accused the Liberals of preparing a "secret" $317-million bailout for the research complex.

Audit is part of annual process for AG Bonnie Lysyk

Ontario’s auditor general is looking into the Liberals’ financial dealings with MaRS in downtown Toronto, as part of her audit of infrastructure funding in the province. (Canadian Press File Photo)

Ontario’s auditor general will be looking into the Liberals’ financial dealings with MaRS, the troubled government-backed research complex in downtown Toronto, as part of a regular audit of infrastructure funding in the province.

The Progressive Conservatives released a document last week suggesting the Liberals were planning a "secret" $317-million bailout for an office building at the site, prompting the NDP to ask the auditor general to investigate.

In a letter addressed to the NDP, the AG said she is already conducting a scheduled audit of Infrastructure Ontario's Loans Program.

“The scope of that audit includes the loan made to facilitate completion of the MaRS Phase 2 building,” Bonnie Lysyk wrote.

Auditor General spokesperson Christine Pedias told CBC News the audit is part of a "regular, annual process" and was started last year. It will cover "all aspects of the loan program," Pedias said. 

The Liberal Party said in a release Thursday that the auditor general has full access to all information about Infrastructure Ontario’s Loans Program. 

Ontario taxpayers are on the hook for $450,000 in monthly interest payments for the MaRS office tower, which is now more than two thirds empty. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)
The party accused Horwath and the NDP of "deceiving reporters about a regular report being undertaken by the auditor general," and called it a "desperate" move by Horwath.

But Horwath said the party was simply doing what is necessary.

"We are in an election campaign. This is exactly the time when (Liberal Leader Kathleen) Wynne can show leadership and actually explain to the people of Ontario what's been going on with the MaRS building," she told reporters Thursday..

"I'm glad that the auditor general is doing an investigation. We don't know what investigations the auditor general is doing until she issues her report."

Troubled real estate project

The Liberal government gave $71 million to build a second tower at the MaRS research complex near Queen's Park and provided a $234-million loan for the project.

Documents released by outgoing PC MPP Frank Klees show the registered charity and the real estate developer behind the structure can't repay the money. Klees alleged the Liberals approved a bailout for a real estate developer and the MaRS research and innovation charity.

Wynne said the documents refer to negotiations that were still underway to purchase the building. The Liberals say the deal would mean the province would own the building as valuable office space and amortize it over 40 years.

 The NDP asked the auditor general to look into the matter last week.

“You have raised a number of questions that we will consider in drafting the chapter covering this audit,” Lysyk wrote in her reply.

Wynne said Thursday she is not concerned about the auditor general's investigation

"The auditor general, in the regular course of her preparing her report for the end of the year, was already looking at some of the Infrastructure Ontario issues and so that just part of her ongoing investigation," Wynne said at Toronto's Pearson airport.

"So when she was asked to investigate she was already in the process of investigating."

PC Leader Tim Hudak has been likening the MaRS situation to the $1-billion gas plant scandal, during which the Liberals cancelled construction of two gas plants in an effort to save seats in the Legislature during the 2011 election. Hudak did not comment on the auditor general's letter Thursday morning, but the PC party released a statement asking Wynne to "come clean on the total cost of the MaRS bailout."   

Results of the audit are expected to be part of the auditor general's annual report to be released in December.


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