10/20/2014 10:20 EDT | Updated 12/20/2014 05:59 EST

Kathleen Wynne Won't Say If There Was Business Case For $224M MaRS Loan

TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government is keeping key information about a $224-million loan to a troubled real estate project in downtown Toronto from the public and from a legislative committee, the opposition parties charged Monday.

Taxpayers are on the hook for about $450,000 a month in interest on the loan for the MaRS Phase 2 office tower, plus another $65 million to bail out an American real estate developer involved in the project.

The Liberals say taxpayers won't lose in the long run because the MaRS office tower is worth more than the $309 million the province has laid out so far, but the Progressive Conservatives worry the final bill will be a lot higher.

"I can't see how, with any credibility, that the premier can say that building is worth what they say it is, because a building that has no tenants has no value," said PC critic Randy Hillier. "I don't believe what they say unless there is evidence and documentation to back it up."

The Opposition said the MaRS project looks a lot like previous Liberal scandals at eHealth Ontario, the Ornge air ambulance service and their decision to cancel two gas plants at a cost to taxpayers of up to $1.1 billion dollars.

"They've learned nothing from their past scandals, and this whole thing about transparency and accountability is nothing but a pile of crap," said interim PC Leader Jim Wilson. "It's exactly the pattern of behaviour we've seen for 11 years, throwing good money after bad."

The Liberals have admitted that they changed the rules to give the money to the charity behind the MaRS medical research centre in the first place, but Premier Kathleen Wynne repeatedly refused to say if there was a business case to support the loan.

"There was a process whereby the decision was made, and that process always would have had, at its core, the best interests of the research and innovation that is possible at MaRS," said Wynne.

The premier said the government would release all the MaRS-related documents that it can, but not when they contain commercially sensitive information that could harm the province's negotiating position.

The Conservatives and NDP said that's the same argument the Liberals put forth during the gas plants fiasco, which eventually turned out to cost more than triple what the government had been claiming.

"To not allow the auditor general to come in to properly look at it, to not give the proper documents to the committee, even in camera, this is the same pattern we've seen before in all the other major scandals," said Wilson. "God knows how much this is going to cost us."

The NDP expressed frustration with Wynne's responses on MaRS during the first question period of the fall sitting at Queen's Park.

"We don't even know if they did a business case analysis on the loan to this organization, to MaRS," said New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath. "It seems to me this government's got a lot to hide (despite) a lot of good talk around being transparent."

There are police investigations into Ornge and into attempts by Liberal insiders to cover up the gas plants scandal, but the Conservatives said they weren't ready yet to ask for an outside investigation of the MaRS project.

"We'll give them a little bit more time before we determine if there's other avenues that we should pursue to get these financial documents," said Hillier.

Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid, who was pressed on the issue for two days last week at committee, said Monday he was waiting to find out if there had been a business case for the loan to MaRS.

"I've asked my officials to dig out whatever documents exist with respect to a business case, and they haven't reported back to me yet," Duguid told reporters.

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