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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Tories warn MaRS bailout could cost more than the $1.1B gas plant scandal

TORONTO - The Liberal government's decision to bail out a real estate project in downtown Toronto could cost Ontario taxpayers more than the $1.1-billion gas plants scandal, the Progressive Conservatives said Friday.

A closer examination of documents obtained from a government whistleblower shows the $317-million purchase price for the Phase 2 tower of the MaRS innovation and research complex is far from the total cost, said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli.

"The province will be covering a $45.7-million shortfall because MaRS will be running in the red until 2018 ... and is also on the hook for $106 million in fit-up costs to move in tenants," Fedeli said in an early morning conference call.

The most concerning item, added Fedeli, is amortization costs of $11 million a year over 40 years, and he wants Premier Kathleen Wynne to explain if that means taxpayers are on the hook for another $440 million on top of the $317-million bailout.

"This is a very serious number, and if it's in addition to it ($317 million), then this is a scandal that will end up becoming, when you add all the numbers together, larger than the gas plants scandal."

Campaigning in Burlington, Wynne said the deal to bailout the real estate developer and charity behind MaRS was not made public because it hasn't been finalized.

But Fedeli said that didn't stop the Liberals from announcing $1 billion for the Ring of Fire even though no deal has been reached for the mining development in northern Ontario.

The Liberals didn't talk about MaRS to avoid being embarrassed during the June 12 election campaign by the bad deals they negotiated, he said. They also used "ongoing negotiations" to try to keep gas plant documents from a legislative committee, added Fedeli.

"They used that excuse back in the gas plants scandal days, but it didn't work then and it won't work now," he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Wynne was behaving just like her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, who quit under a cloud of scandal because the Liberals refused to release documents on cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.

"This is a pattern of behaviour that we saw from Dalton McGuinty, where they make big mistakes that cost the taxpayers a fortune and then they try to cover it up to protect the interests of the Liberal party, no matter what the costs," he said.

"Kathleen Wynne said she'd be different, but this looks like a Dalton McGuinty trick all over again and we just can't afford any more of it."

The Tories said it was the side deals on the gas plants that drove the cost to taxpayers from less than $200 million to up to $1.1 billion, and it's side deals to the MaRS project that concern them the most.

"It's certainly no bargain to the people of Ontario, up to $300 million got wasted at a minimum and potentially up to $1 billion on this latest Liberal scandal," said Hudak.

The PC leader said voters need to keep the Liberal mishandling of the MaRS project in mind when they go to the polls June 12.

"This reminds me a lot of the gas plants scandal where initially Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty said it was only $40 million and then we found out it was over $1 billion," he said. "If they get away with this, as you can see now with MaRS, they're going to do it over and over and over again, and it's bankrupting the province."

Wynne put a positive spin on the fact the province now has to buy the MaRS office tower to stop the charity from defaulting on loans, saying it will be good for the government to own more office space across the street from the legislature.

"This is a process whereby we would be consolidating government functions that are now in other buildings, not owned by government, in one building that would then be owned by the government," she said. "That's a responsible thing to do."

The Liberal leader said Hudak was using MaRS to distract from the fact that the Conservatives made a basic math error in calculating they could create one million jobs over eight years, the centrepiece of their "fundamentally flawed" platform.

"They have put forward a platform that's based on a mathematical error, and so they're going to do anything between now and June 12 to make sure that people are not thinking about that," said Wynne.

With files from Adam Miller

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