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John Ruffolo, head of OMERS Ventures, resigns from Waterfront Toronto advisory panel citing ‘vague’ and ‘broad’ non-disclosure agreement

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The head of OMERS Ventures has resigned from a volunteer committee advising Waterfront Toronto on the Quayside development.

In a resignation letter obtained by The Logic, John Ruffolo said he was leaving the group because of the strict confidentiality agreement that the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel was asked to sign.

“I am still unclear what exactly the nature of the confidential matters might be and I cannot sign such a vague and broad agreement as I do not even know exactly what I am agreeing to,” Ruffolo wrote in a July 4 email to Kristina Verner, Waterfront Toronto’s vice-president of innovation, sustainability and prosperity.

In a statement emailed to The Logic, Waterfront Toronto confirmed Ruffolo’s departure. When asked why he had resigned, a spokesperson wrote, “It is not our position to comment on an individual’s personal decision-making.”

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Ruffolo declined to comment.

In his resignation letter, Ruffolo suggested that the confidentiality agreement, or non-disclosure agreement (NDA), was a result of pressure from Sidewalk Labs.

“In my view, the imposition of the NDA is being brought forth not by virtue of confidential information held by Waterfront Toronto but rather by virtue of the potential involvement of a supplier.”

Talking Point

A stringent confidentiality agreement led to the resignation of leading Canadian businessman John Ruffolo from Waterfront Toronto’s voluntary panel advising on Sidewalk Toronto’s Quayside development. Several other panel members have yet to sign the agreement.

As first reported by The Logic last month, the confidentiality agreement presented to the arm’s-length volunteer committee has raised further questions about the transparency of Waterfront Toronto’s plans for the Quayside development. Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., has proposed the construction of a 12-acre technology-driven smart neighbourhood on the city’s eastern lakeshore.

Ruffolo is a widely-respected figure in Canadian business circles. He leads the investment arm of OMERS, one of the leading pension funds in Canada, and is the co-founder and vice-chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators. He is on the boards of the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Royal Ontario Museum. He is also the vice-chair of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Announced in April, the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel’s mandate is to advise Waterfront Toronto on privacy, transparency, data and technology issues surrounding Sidewalk Labs’ proposed development.

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The panel—made up of privacy experts, real estate and technology industry leaders—is scheduled to meet three more times this year, but the success of those meetings—as well as of the panel at large—depends on the negotiations surrounding the confidentiality agreement.

A number of panel members have yet to sign the confidentiality agreement. The next meeting is scheduled for August 16.

“We have continued to work with members to address feedback related to the confidentiality agreement,” wrote the spokesperson. “The Panel has not formally met since this issue was raised, but we are actively engaged in this work with them.”

Waterfront Toronto—whose agreement with Sidewalk Labs stems from a Request for Proposals in March 2017—was created in 2001 with support from the City of Toronto, the Ontario government and the federal government. Their 25-year mandate tasks the organization with the renewal of 2,000 acres of land on the city’s waterfront into mixed-use communities and public spaces.