Waterfront Toronto CEO defends spending on washroom

The head of Waterfront Toronto defended expenditures and the agency’s transparency following Mayor Rob Ford’s attacks Thursday.

John Campbell says agency is turning 'sow’s ear into a silk purse'

The mayor and several councillors have publically blasted the costs associated with umbrellas, decorative rocks and a public washroom along Toronto's waterfront.

The head of Waterfront Toronto defended spending on a washroom and the agency’s transparency following Mayor Rob Ford’s call for him to resign on Thursday.

Ford said spending $600,000 on a single public washroom along Toronto's waterfront was the "last straw", and the CEO of Waterfront Toronto, John Campbell, must resign.

Campbell spoke with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway Friday defending the choices made by the waterfront board. He said it was not about the price of the washrooms, but the value. 

He refrained from direct commentary on what the mayor said, including his call for Campbell to resign.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for a public servant to get into a debate with an elected official,” he said.

But Campbell did have words countering several of Ford’s questions and accusations regarding the spending and transparency of the group.

"We are learning that $600,000 of taxpayers money has been wasted on a single public washroom facility," Ford said Thursday. "That is approximately the cost of house in the city of Toronto."

The washroom is located at Cherry Beach Sports Fields in the Port Lands area. It opened in 2012, and includes a baby change station and accessible stalls.

Campbell, who has been with the agency since 2003, said that there is a lot involved in working on land in that part of the city that the public has to understand.

"It’s important for people to realize that where we are on the waterfront is a very expensive area," Campbell said. "All the land south of Front Street is actually fill. It’s only been there 100 years not like north [of Front] where it is 10,000-years-old. It has no bearing capacity."

Campbell also said the area where the washroom is needed to be treated because of contamination. Waterfront Toronto had to fill the nearby sports field to make sure it was safe.

"Those are huge costs we incur are for turning what’s been a sow’s ear into a silk purse,” said Campbell.

The cost of that much debated washroom, under fire by many councillors, is a result of it being built on contaminated fill that lacks infrastructure. Campbell said that the pump alone used to get rid of water in the initial hole was $60,000. 

Transparency and oversight

Ford also said that he has regularly raised his "concerns on about the lack of oversight" on how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Something that Campbell points too as quite the opposite. 

"I don’t think there’s an agency in the country that has as much oversight as Waterfront Toronto," Campbell said Friday.

"We sort of live in a fish bowl, we have three governments — municipal, provincial and federal — that we report to and in fact that’s probably a good thing because this project is going to take a vision that’s going to have to last for 10 , 20, 30 years," he said. "So we’ve been able to go through a number of political changes at various levels of government and maintain that vision and this is a long term program."

And Ford has a seat on the very board that would deal with transparency and oversight, but as Campbell confirmed, the mayor has yet to attend a board meeting. There is currently a delegate holding Ford's seat.

Campbell added that despite the "highly politicized" environment, there are a lot of great things that have been done recently on the waterfront like Sugar Beach, Sherbourne Common, Corktown Common and "the  $2.6 billion of development that we’ve spurred just to start with."