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Mark Saunders named special advisor to Ontario Place, announcement coming on park's future

Last Updated Mar 5, 2021 at 3:56 pm EDT

Retiring Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is shown during an interview with The Canadian Press in Toronto on Monday, July 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The Ford government has announced former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders has been appointed special advisor to Ontario Place.

“Mr. Saunders will provide guidance and expert advice to Premier Doug Ford and Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries,” said the province in a statement.

“[Saunders will work] closely with the City of Toronto and Indigenous communities, as well as stakeholders and businesses involved in the redevelopment project.”

Saunders stepped down as police chief in July. He was replaced by James Ramer on an interim basis.

Before becoming chief in 2015, Saunders spent years dealing with street gangs, combating drug trafficking, and working with the emergency task force.

Last summer, Saunders said he had no plans beyond spending more time with his family.

“Mr. Saunders’s intimate knowledge of the diverse communities in Toronto and across Ontario will bring important perspectives to the project, as well as a level of expertise that will help turn our vision for the site into a reality,” said Minister MacLeod.

“Clearly, a modern new Ontario Place will attract local, provincial, and international visitors, playing a key role in our post-pandemic recovery while creating unforgettable memories for a new generation. When complete, Ontario Place will regain its iconic status as an integral part of the province’s identity.”

The province has remained tight-lipped with news surrounding the future of Ontario Place, and while the province has not provided an update on the plans for revitalization, officials have confirmed that the park will play a “critical role” in Ontario’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

On Friday, Minister MacLeod confirmed that the “vision for Ontario Place” will not include casinos or condos, that the land will not be sold, and key heritage and recreational features of the site will remain, such as Trillium Park and others.

“We will be sharing more exciting news this spring. The 50th anniversary of Ontario Place is the perfect time to provide the people of Ontario with a preview of the tremendous plans for the site’s future,” said MacLeod.

MacLeod says Saunders will be able to leverage his senior-level experience in a major organization, experience in large-scale transformation change management, and in the execution of complex project management initiatives to advise the government.

The province has insisted it will engage with Indigenous communities, the City of Toronto, and the public as it moves forward with redevelopment in Ontario Place.

The park was built in 1971.