U of T President Meric Gertler is among three board members who were fired by the Ontario government on December 6 from Waterfront Toronto, a public agency that is working on revitalizing the city’s waterfront through a controversial partnership with Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
In a report from The Associated Press, Waterfront Toronto chairperson Helen Burstyn confirmed Thursday that herself, Gertler, and another board member, Michael Nobrega, had been removed for unknown reasons.
Burstyn said the provincial Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton informed her of the decision but declined to provide a reason for their dismissal.
Waterfront Toronto’s board of directors is composed of four representatives from each of the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government — including a chair approved by all three — but has recently been hit by high-profile resignations.
The organization partnered with Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, in June to turn the area into a wired community filled with apartments, offices, shops, and other institutions.
The deal raised concerns with Ontario’s auditor general, whose report earlier this week said it was rushed. Others have pointed out that there may be some privacy implications of allowing one of the world’s largest technology company such a wide rein over public property.
In a statement to The Varsity, McNaughton directly referenced the auditor general’s report on Waterfront Toronto. He said that “oversight needs strengthening” and that the agency “failed to properly consult with its overseers,” which he called “unacceptable.”
“Accordingly, I have informed the three current Provincially-appointed board members that we are bringing new leadership to the board,” McNaughton said. “I want to thank the three Board members for their service to the province. We will be announcing their replacements in the time ahead.”
Burstyn told The Associated Press that she does not regret the partnership with Sidewalk Labs.
Elizabeth Church, U of T spokesperson, confirmed that Gertler had been asked to step down from the board, and said he “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.”
Gertler was appointed to the board in January 2017, and brought years of expertise in urban planning with degrees from the University of California Berkeley and Harvard University. At the time, he said his goals would focus on developing affordable and accessible housing for Torontonians.