When Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives took power in 2018, Premier Doug Ford ordered his infrastructure minister to pursue policies that were never disclosed to voters: to scrutinize Ontario’s real estate portfolio and consider which properties could be put on the market for sale.
The mandate letter, obtained exclusively by Global News, was given to Monte McNaughton after he was sworn in as the Minister of Infrastructure in June 2018 — a position he held for a year before being shuffled to the labour portfolio.
The contents of the mandate letter have been a closely-guarded secret by Premier Ford and his government since they were first presented to his cabinet ministers in 2018, and the Supreme Court of Canada is currently considering a request to release them.
While McNaughton’s instructions from Premier Doug Ford were to look into the province’s transportation infrastructure projects — such as the twinning of highways, widening the 401 and uploading the Toronto subway system — the ministry was also directed to audit projects announced under the former Liberal government.
“Review the province’s planned $190 billion of capital investments in infrastructure and ensure that money is being deployed in a proper fashion and on the right projects for Ontario families and businesses,” the mandate letter read.
The directives then instructed the minister to work with the province’s housing minister to “evaluate the province’s real estate portfolio” and offload unused properties.
“Either sell inefficiently used properties, donate them to municipalities for social housing builds, or repurpose these facilities for more efficient use,” the letter stated, adding that air right above transit stations or provincially owned assets were also to be targeted for sale.
Vacant units were to be divested immediately if the sale was “feasible or logical.”
That mandate was later passed onto Infrastructure Ontario, the crown agency tasked with managing the contracts and construction for projects in the province ranging from transit to hospitals or bridges.
Public documents dating back to 2019 show the Ontario government reviewed and approved the divestment of 243 properties generating between $105 to $135 million as part of a four-year Accelerated Divestment Plan.
Meanwhile, the premier’s office also wanted more private sector involvement in the building of public infrastructure. The minister was directed to “expand the use of public-private partnerships” in building necessary infrastructure.
Public documents show that Infrastructure Ontario was tasked with “finding new ways to pay for infrastructure,” to lower the cost of delivery, and to pursue private sector partnerships.
Here is the mandate letter given to Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure in 2018:
- Work with the Minister of Transportation to deliver our various infrastructure commitments including the twinning of several regional highways including highway 17 and highway 3, pre-study work on widening the 401, fulfilling regional transit projects, and negotiating the terms of the subway upload with the City of Toronto.
- Continue to expand the use of public-private partnerships in building necessary infrastructure. Review the province’s planned $190 billion of capital investments in infrastructure and ensure that money is being deployed in a proper fashion and on the right projects for Ontario families and businesses.
- Work with the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to expand natural gas to rural communities through private partnerships and deploy all savings in increased broadband and cellular coverage in rural and Northern Ontario.
- Work with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to evaluate the province’s real estate portfolio and either sell inefficiently used properties, donate them to municipalities for social housing builds, or repurpose these facilities for more efficient use. This review should include air rights above transit stations and other provincially owned assets.
- Immediately proceed with a divestment of vacant units where feasible and logical. These facilities should be repurposed or sold for the betterment of the province.
- Work with municipalities to address their infrastructure and their infrastructure planning needs. Ensure you are a strong partner in Cabinet for them and address any outstanding issues with regional grant programs, information on funding approvals or rejections, and asset planning issues.
- Work with the Federal Government on accessing funds from the Infrastructure Bank and other Federal infrastructure transfers. Provide crucial advice to Cabinet about partnering with the Federal Government on various projects moving forward.
This story is the seventh story in the new Global News series ‘Mandated.’ Over several days, a series of stories will reveal the contents of the Ford government’s first set of mandate letters, handed to ministers after the party formed government in 2018. The letters have been kept secret since Doug Ford’s first election — a battle that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Photo illustration by Janet Cordahi
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