Background: Southlake Regional Health Centre Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, met landowner and developer, Michael Rice, at King’s Municipal Centre on 1 November 2022. At this hugely consequential meeting Rice offered Krystal a site for a new acute hospital on Greenbelt land in King which he had purchased six weeks earlier on 15 September 2022.

In fact, Rice had been talking to Southlake about the new hospital since January 2022.

Southlake insists it has no records of what happened at that 1 November 2022 meeting which took place three days before the Government announced that it would be opening-up certain areas of the Greenbelt to development.

When King’s Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, moved a motion at Council on 7 November 2022 celebrating Michael Rice’s decision to make land available for a nominal fee, Arden Krystal asked him to make minor changes to the motion to make it “less controversial”.

For its own reasons Southlake is not telling the whole story about how it came to be offered Greenbelt land for a new hospital campus, essentially free-of-charge. 

Despite this, Southlake boasts of its pride in being transparent.

Southlake's Strategy: Don’t Explain. Don’t Complain.

I have filed a series of Freedom of Information appeals with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to find out what really happened. But it is not easy. We only have part of the picture because Southlake's top management steadfastly refuses to tell us what they know.

Months ago, following a Freedom of Information request, I was told that Southlake had indeed received an invitation from the Chief Administrative Officer of King, Daniel Kostopolous, to the key meeting on 1 November 2022 with Michael Rice and Steve Pellegrini. But, ludicrously, Southlake is unwilling to tell me who received the invitation and when. I have filed an appeal.

Transparency: Conflicts of Interest

I also asked Southlake for sight of any declarations of conflict of interest disclosed by Board Members from 1 June 2018 – 30 September 2022 but I am told this is confidential and that it happened in a closed meeting. For that reason it will not be disclosed. There was a conflict of interest declared at the Board meeting in September 2022 but we don't know who made it nor its nature. Was it pecuniary or non-pecuniary? It is all a complete mystery. And the fact that a Conflict of Interest declaration was made is not mentioned in the meeting summary.

Hospital Board members are treated differently from elected members of municipalities. The difference is striking.

Municipalites must keep a Declaration of Interest Registry which is open to the public. Southlake, as a hospital, does not. 

With municipal closed meetings the declaration of interest (but not its general nature) must be recorded in the minutes of the next meeting that is open to the public. But Southlake does not produce Minutes of Board meetings – only summaries of meetings. When Southlake Board members declare conflicts of interest these are never reported publicly.

Transparency: Minutes of Board Meetings

I have also appealed against Southlake’s refusal to let me see the minutes of Board meetings on 22 September 2022, 24 November 2022 and 26 January 2023 even when I said these should be redacted by them as they see fit.

I am told the minutes are confidential and cannot be released. Period.

Surely the offer of land for a new hospital in King for a nominal fee would have been reported back to the Board? We have no way of knowing.

All we have to go on are the skeletal Board summaries which make no reference to the offer of land. The meeting summaries do not even tell us which Board members were present.

Other hospitals in Ontario publish Board minutes, redacted where necessary. 

Transparency: Land Acquisition 

I also asked for sight of the background materials submitted to the Board in relation to a new Land Acquisition Sub Committee – again redacted as Southlake sees fit. The formation of the sub-committee is mentioned in the Board summary for 22 September 2022 but no other details are given.Dunlap

John Dunlap, the realtor acting for Bob Schickedanz, the former President of the Ontario Home Builders Association who sold the 2.78 sq km of Greenbelt land to Michael Rice, came off the Southlake Board in September 2022.

Re-writing key planning policies

Elsewhere…  Doug Ford is abandoning all pretense that he is interested in preserving the Greenbelt. His proposed Provincial Planning Statement 2023 (PPS)

“will form a single Province-wide land use planning policy document to support the achievement of Provincial housing objectives.”

A trenchant commentary from York Region says the proposed PPS will no longer restrict expansion of Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine settlement areas 

“potentially permitting uncontrolled expansion of these areas”. 

Ford has no mandate for these changes which were never flagged up in the last election.

Back in 2018 Ford was caught on camera promising a group of developers he would open up a “big chunk” of the Greenbelt. There was a furious reaction and he did a rapid U-turn. Now he clearly believes he doesn't need to dance around the issue any more. The Greenbelt is open for business.

Natural Heritage Policies to be unveiled later

A report to Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole yesterday tells councillors the Province is reviewing natural heritage policies but these are not included in the proposed Provincial Planning Statement. There will be a separate posting on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.

This is very relevant to us in Newmarket given the Rice lands are immediately adjacent to the Town.

York Region’s Chief Planner, Paul Freeman, told me on 7 February 2023:

“Now that the (Rice) lands have been removed from the Greenbelt, presumably natural heritage features will still be protected and the official plan and zoning by-law will be amended to reflect the Province’s direction. This is necessary to enable development applications and building permits. I would anticipate the Province will be issuing a Minister’s Zoning Order to further define how development on these lands will proceed.”

Paul Freeman presumes natural heritage features will still be protected.

Personally, I think that's a big assumption to make.

Natural Heritage issues - protected lands, wildlife corridors and all the rest have been put on the back burner for the moment to allow the process to be better managed. But, at some stage, Ford will have to tell us which natural heritage features he plans to throw overboard to make more land available for sprawl.

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The map below shows the Rice lands which were removed from the Greenbelt on 21 December 2022. The grey area shows land within the Oak Ridges Moraine which has now been designated a settlement area. The Rice lands still include natural heritage features which may or may not be protected. The Dunlap lands, as can be seen, contain land designated as countryside. There are other natural heritage features.