Waterfront Toronto board of director Meric Gertler, the president of the University of Toronto, along with the board’s chair, Helen Burstyn, and provincial appointee Michael Nobrega, acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto (held since the summer of 2018) and former chief executive of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System were removed last month by the provincial government. Waterfront Toronto does not have the authority to release members of their board.

The three directors were ushered out by the Ontario government for unknown reasons. Burstyn told The Associated Press that the provincial Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton informed her of the decision but declined to provide a reason for their dismissal. Nobrega continues to serve in his role as the acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto.

University of Toronto spokesperson Elizabeth Church told The Varsity that Gertler “served at the pleasure of the government and will continue to do work to encourage city-building efforts through his role as President of the University of Toronto.”

The changes to the board of directors comes after the recent resignation of developer Julie Di Lorenzo in July of 2018 amid Waterfront Toronto’s new partnership with Sidewalk Labs, Google’s sister company.

In her resignation letter, Di Lorenzo wrote that she did not believe Waterfront Toronto’s deal with Sidewalk Labs was “in the best interest of the corporation and our country.”

In an interview with The Star, Di Lorenzo stated that the new deal would limit Waterfront Toronto’s independence, as well as fail to address data concerns in regard to the proposal to solve urban problems with help of sensor-gathered data via wireless sensor networks.

According to an article by The Globe and Mail, the networks would be able to collect data on traffic, noise, air quality and the performance of systems including trash bins and the electrical grid. The sensors have raised worries over data ownership, security, and monetization.

“Over the past 15 years, Waterfront Toronto earned the trust of three levels of government, to serve as custodian of in excess of 1.2 billion dollars, to complete one of the most important infrastructure projects in this country known as the Flood Lands Restoration Project,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

“We controlled our narrative and our destiny and did not relinquish it to any other until now. I do not believe it was the intention of the three levels of government to allow a single limited company to become our filter, our gatekeeper and our agent. Yet through an unconventional and an opportunistic series of circumstances, I feel we have allowed this to happen.”

The two companies hope to turn the waterfront into a wired community filled with residential, office and commercial space, including new headquarters for Google Canada. Being called Quayside, the area will have an initial $50 million invested by Sidewalk Labs in a year-long planning process.

Liberal Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan, whose riding covers the Quayside district where Sidewalk Labs is proposing the renovations, has stated his concerns over the possibility of the Ontario government using the data privacy concerns to “blow up” Waterfront Toronto, according to an article in the Financial Post.

“Doug Ford has been trying to sabotage Waterfront Toronto since the days he was on city council and I was on council with him,” Vaughan said.

“He has never won the argument with serious city planners on his vision for the waterfront, but you know, with a couple high-tech activists and a really flimsy, poorly written auditor’s report, he’s got the cover he needs to reverse 25 years of good, solid work and 40 years of dreaming on the Toronto Waterfront, and I’ll be damned if I surrender that just because you don’t like the way Google or Facebook or Twitter handles personal data.”

The more detailed and refined evaluation framework of the Quayside will be shared in early 2019.

Waterfront Toronto is a public organization that is working on revitalizing the city’s waterfront. Each of the three levels of government are able to appoint or remove four members of the board at their discretion.

This article has been corrected.
  1. January 8, 2019 at 5 a.m.: More information regarding Michael Nobrega’s role as the Acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto was included as his role as “accountant” was inaccurate.
    Notice to be printed on January 14, 2019 (Volume 45, Issue 14).
  2. January 8, 2019 at 5 a.m.: It was clarified that the three board members were removed by the provincial government, as Waterfront Toronto holds no authority in removing members.
    Notice to be printed on January 14, 2019 (Volume 45, Issue 14).

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