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Dennis Mills wades in on waterfront

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Sports and culture facilities possible in 2 years, MP says

KERRY GILLESPIE

CITY HALL BUREAU

Liberal MP Dennis Mills wants the federal government to fork over $78 million to help turn Toronto's derelict waterfront into an oasis of green parks, recreation and cultural facilities.

Money is always good news in cash-poor Toronto, but many of those funds wouldn't go to the corporation set up by all three levels of government to do the job.

For starters, Mills wants $32 million to go to the Toronto Port Authority for a variety of waterfront-related projects, and that's "illegal," says Mayor David Miller.

Controversy seemed to be following Mills yesterday. Before he had the chance to announce his plans at a news conference, anti-poverty activists shouted "Liar" and "Resign, Dennis Mills" over what they said was a broken promise to turn an abandoned building into housing.

Mills picked 39 waterfront projects he says can be completed in six months to two years.

They include a bid for the 2015 World's Fair, a campus of the United Nations Peace University, an Arctic Ocean aquarium, Shakespearean outdoor theatre, an aboriginal cultural centre, a sports facility, a dragonboat racing course and a lot of parkland.

Prime Minister Paul Martin gave Mills the task of reviewing existing waterfront plans and reporting back on what Ottawa should do on the waterfront.

Mills' plan ? particularly the new money ? needs Martin's approval, which Mills hopes to get by the end of March.

Of the $78 million, Mills wants $32 million for the port authority, a federal agency, and $16 million for other federal departments, including Parks Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs.

The $30 million left would go to the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp., which is directed and funded by the city, Queen's Park and Ottawa.

The governments have already given the corporation $1.5 billion for waterfront development. Mills wants $200 million of the federal portion to be combined with the new $78 million to pay for the 39 projects.

This was all announced yesterday on the top floor of the Westin Harbour Castle hotel, overlooking the waterfront. But it was delayed by more than half an hour as a dozen protesters crowded in front of the cameras, verbally attacking Mills.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty activists said they were there over housing, but Mills and supporters said they were there to create a stir on behalf of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, who plans to run against Mills in the next election in Toronto-Danforth.

"Where's your leader, Jack Layton?" MP Tony Ianno repeatedly shouted at protesters.

Layton's spokesperson said he wasn't involved in the protest.

When Mills was first appointed as a one-man waterfront task force, it was suggested the main aim was to boost his profile, so he'd have a better chance of keeping his seat.

Mills has tangled with Layton in the past, including over the creation of the port authority. Mills wanted it; Layton, then a city councillor, didn't.

By law, the port authority must be self-sustaining, something it has had trouble doing. "It's illegal for the federal government to subsidize it," Miller said.

Lisa Raitt, CEO of the port authority, agreed: "We're not allowed to take cash infusions."

The $32 million Mills proposes giving the port authority "would have to be for specific projects related to our mandate," she said; something water-based like a rowing course would be fine. But Mills appears to have something broader in mind.

"The aboriginal healing centre on Ward's Island, that is by statute a national government responsibility, so our agent on that would be the port authority," Mills said in an interview.

The port authority will also be "our intermediary with Parks Canada" to make sure land south of Unwin Ave. around the Leslie St. spit doesn't get into developers' hands, he said.

Mills acknowledged the ongoing conflict between the city and the port authority, saying the port authority needs to become "much more sensitive in our language, in our spirit and ... much more collaborative with all the stakeholders."

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