Federal NDP Member of Parliament (MP) Charlie Angus says Canadians have “been played for suckers” by the Liberal government and Google in response to a new report revealing Google’s Sidewalk Labs had plans to extend the smart city development Quayside by getting a share of property taxes, development fees and increased value of city land.
“[The Liberals] pretended that this is some cool little project when all along it was about turning over some of their richest real estate land in the world to one of the biggest American corporations,” Angus said to MobileSyrup during a phone interview on February 15th.
“The people of Canada have been played for suckers. about Google and the Liberal government,” he said.
On Thursday night, The Toronto Star released an investigative report based on internal documents that showed the company had plans to make a case indicating it was “entitled to…a share in the uptick in land value on the entire geography…a share of developer charges and incremental tax revenue on all land.”
Documents showed that the land where Sidewalk Labs eventually constructed Quayside would increase in value and “could amount to a large, recurring revenue stream diverted from the city into private lands.”
Confidential slides showed that Sidewalk Labs intended on benefiting from the potential increase in the value of the land after other developers built their projects.
Angus said that there was no transparency to anything that Sidewalk Labs had done or said so far.
“We need accountability and an investigation into how this deal was constructed,” Angus said.
Asked if Canada’s Ethics Commissioner or Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner needs to partake in an investigation, Angus said: “We are looking at options.”
He did note that he has not been in touch with either commissioner on the issue yet.
Sidewalk Labs intended to create LRT expansions, expects to be repaid
Sidewalk Labs’ CEO Dan Doctoroff told the Star that the slides were real.
“We don’t think that 12 acres on Quayside has the scale to actually have the impact on affordability and economic opportunity and transit that everyone aspires to,” he told the Star in an interview.
He added that the plan is to spend “a lot of money in advancing the infrastructure” and in turn, believes the company should be “paid back a reasonable return for our investment in that infrastructure.”
Slides showed ideas of constructing an LRT expansion and construction of “power and thermal grid, and waste removal.”
“This is something that is on nobody’s realistic drawing board. We would ensure it gets financed and all we want to do is get paid back out of the increased in value in terms of property taxes and developer charges that are only possible when that LRT gets extended,” Doctoroff said.
Angus said the offer wasn’t a “good deal for the Canadian people.”
“A 30-day [Request For Proposals] that turned over so much valuable land that basically no one else was able to really put a bid in…that stinks,” Angus said.
Not everyone was invited to private dinner
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in her 2018 report that Sidewalk Labs had been given more information than others to complete the proposal. She said that all levels of government needed to have consultations with Sidewalk Labs throughout the process.
And Sidewalk Labs did say it was in constant contact with the three levels of government.
Angus, on the other hand, doesn’t feel that the level of engagement was enough. He said the last time he met with Google’s lobbyists was in October when they had met with many MPs and senior officials.
“But I wasn’t invited to that dinner,” Angus said as he laughed.
That dinner he was referring to was a dinner that was hosted on October 25th with 12 senior government officials and three executives from Sidewalk Labs, including its CEO Dan Doctoroff.
Angus said he obtained the information through an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request. The Globe and Mail reported on January 17th that the ATIP briefing showed the federal staff were advised to press Doctoroff on IP concerns.
“This looks like it was set up through back-room channels and I think we need to definitely stop this project now on its tracks and get some accountability,” Angus said, adding when the Google lobbyists showed up as his door they made it seem like the project was going to be fun.
“They presented to us a really neat little project, a little experiment. They never came clean about the overall picture, which is turning over to a massive American corporation, public revenues, public oversight of some of the most prime real estate in the world,” Angus said.
“Google has gotten away with it because they have a very very comfy, cozy relationship with all the senior representatives, at least in the Liberal government, and the two other levels of government, we need to see some accountability as well.”
ATIP Charlie Angus by on Scribd
Still no response from Infrastructure Minister regarding concerns
Angus said he still has not received a response from Infrastructure and Communities Minister François-Philippe Champagne after he penned a letter to him in January expressing his concerns about the project.
“He has never bothered to respond,” Angus said. “I think [Sidewalk Labs] just thinks that this is just going to go ahead because it’s Google. And my question is, is it in the public interest?” Angus said.
The Waterfront Toronto board of directors later approved a Plan Development Agreement (PDA) with Sidewalk Labs in July 2018. As a result of the 58-page PDA, Sidewalk Labs said that it would invest approximately $40 million USD (roughly $52.87 million CAD) to develop the Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP).
Of that total figure, Sidewalk Labs set aside $2.6 million USD (approximately $3.52 million CAD) to examine legal, regulatory and policy issues, including data privacy and digital governance.