Community advocates and politicians are pleading with the federal government to abandon any plans to sell off more of Downsview Park to developers.
“Downsview Park is created for the people of Toronto,” Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow said at a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 23 at the Rameses Shrine Temple on Keele Street, south of Sheppard Avenue.
“Downsview Park is not created as a cash cow.”
Chow stood alongside York Centre Councillor Maria Augimeri, Downsview Lands Community Voice Association Inc. (DLCVA) vice-president Albert Krivickas and Cycle Toronto member Michael Black.
They all begged Ottawa to save the 50 per cent of the park not now slated for development as a legacy for present and future residents.
Augimeri accused the government of treating Downsview Park like a “second-class citizen” compared to Scarborough’s Rouge Park, which is receiving $143.7 million in federal funding over 10 years and an annual budget of $7.6 million after that.
The Downsview community has become more worried about additional development at Downsview Park after the government announced last month that the park is being handed over to Canada Lands Company, Krivickas said.
Canada Lands’ mandate is to manage, redevelop and/or sell government properties no longer needed.
“This is Canada’s land. This is our land,” he said, adding millions of dollars from Downsview land sold years ago for big box store development that was supposed to help fund the park was diverted elsewhere.
Augimeri and Chow are sending a letter to Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose urging her to honour previous commitments to protect at least 50 per cent of the park and to dedicate revenue from land sales to sustaining the park rather than going into general government coffers.
Further, they want the daily operation, financial management and maintenance of the park put in the hands of a new arms-length body made up of community representatives, park users and area politicians.
Augimeri said the press conference was held now in response to Canada Lands’ takeover and in advance of a 10-day Ontario Municipal Board hearing beginning Feb. 18 for the future Stanley Greene neighbourhood in the park.
“This is a last-ditch effort to save this huge, precious land,” she told The Mirror.
Manon Lapensee, Canada Lands’ director of communications, said the organization won’t address issues raised at the press conference because the organization is still in the process of evaluating Downsview Park’s future.
“It’s still early days for us,” she said. “We’re proceeding with our analysis. We want to take the time to do it right.”
The organization doesn’t know when it will announce any decision, Lapensee said.
“Certainly, (it will be) this year,” she said.
“We’re working as quickly as we can because we know there are a lot of people interested in what we’re doing but, again, we want to get it right.”
Augimeri said Chow headlined the press conference because she is a forceful voice in Ottawa and because Downsview MPs have “completely failed” the community by not bringing their concerns to Parliament Hill.
York Centre MP Mark Adler, whose ward includes the park, was too busy to discuss issues arising from the press conference with The Mirror, a staff member with his constituency office said Wednesday afternoon.
Instead, he emailed a statement.
“The new governance model will strengthen accountability, ensuring the sustainability of Parc Downsview Park. These changes are being undertaken in a way to ensure and strengthen the long-term viability of Parc Downsview Park,” the email said.
“More will be known once a strategic review has been completed and the Board and Management of Canada Lands Company have had an opportunity to thoroughly review the operations of Parc Downsview Park.”
Meanwhile, York West MP Judy Sgro said in a letter last month in response to Canada Lands’ takeover that she is increasingly concerned about the fate of the park, given the organization’s mandate to sell surplus government property.
“I suspect the outcome will be the construction of 20,000 or even 30,000 new housing units over the next 20 years,” she said, stressing she has no specific knowledge that will happen.
Sgro urged residents to share their concerns about Downsview Park’s future with Adler.