This rancid Ford Government is deeply corrupt.
The Greenbelt scandal has been dominating the front pages for months yet even after two important inquiries by the Auditor General of Ontario and the Integrity Commissioner we do not have the full unvarnished truth.
The developers Michael Rice and Silvio De Gasperis refused to meet the Auditor General whose report, though damning, is accordingly incomplete. The Integrity Commissioner interviewed both developers but not the complete cast of characters.
That is why a Public Inquiry is required.
Under the Public Inquiries Act 2009 it is the Lieutenant Governor on the recommendation of the Government of the day who establishes the Commission of Inquiry. (But see update below)
The conclusions of an independent Inquiry with powers of subpoena would be the kiss of death to the Ford Government.
So much continues to come out. This morning’s Toronto Star chronicles the latest instance of an Ontario developer (a client of the MZO Greenbelt consultant Mr X)
“apparently trying to resell a property after getting special zoning to fast-track building”.
The stench is suffocating. (Photo right: an earlier Ford apology)
If Ford were serious about atoning for his past sins he would tell Steve Clark to be completely frank with MPPs when accepting the Legislature’s reprimand – likely to be this coming week. Clark should make a fulsome statement and, if it is in order procedurally, take questions.
But that is not the end of the matter. There's too much we still don't know.
Donald Rumsfeld famously remarked:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.
Prime Agricultural Lands in the Protected Countryside
The Bathurst lands in King were purchased by the developer Michael Rice on 15 September 2022 for $80M. These are prime agricultural lands in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. The lands include a slice of the Oak Ridges Moraine which the Government decided in December 2022 to redesignate and open up for settlement.
At a meeting at King Municipal Centre on 1 November 2022 – before Steve Clark’s public announcement on 4 November 2022 opening-up parts of the Greenbelt for development – Rice offered part of his Bathurst lands to Southlake Regional Health Centre for a new hospital campus.
After Ford’s statement on Friday (21 September 2023) we must assume these lands will go back into the Greenbelt and we return to the status quo ante.
Rice's Bathurst lands: still home to a hospital?
Incredibly, despite this, and their protected countryside Greenbelt status, the lands at Bathurst may still be partially developed for a new hospital.
We know that Rice, a developer of long standing and monumental business experience, knew the lands were protected countryside in the Greenbelt. Nevertheless, he told the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, he believed part of the lands could be developed for a new hospital and that he anticipated being able to develop lands adjacent to the hospital for medical buildings, a long-term care facility and
“other long-term assets on land that was in the Greenbelt and not necessarily available for other types of development.”
What made him say this? Are there other examples elsewhere in Ontario where hospitals have been built on prime agricultural land since the Greenbelt was established in 2005? I don’t know. Perhaps there are. But I know the Greenbelt plan says this:
New or expanding infrastructure shall avoid specialty crop areas and other prime agricultural areas in that order of priority, unless need has been demonstrated and it has been established that there is no reasonable alternative.
Are there alternative sites for the new Southlake?
Rice told the Integrity Commissioner he had been discussing using other properties he owned in the region for the new hospital site and said he had been in touch with Southlake about these other sites.
Unfortunately, the Integrity Commissioner did not interview the hospital’s Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, who has not commented publicly on Rice’s gift of land – or indeed anything else. All we have is an email exchange with the Mayor of King, Steve Pellegrini, in which Krystal coaches Pellegrini on how best to word a resolution being put to King’s councillors congratulating Rice for his offer.
Pellegrini was also interviewed by the Integrity Commissioner. He told Mr Wake that other lands in the vicinity “had already been discussed as a possible hospital site” and that a new hospital there would be a significant benefit for King.
Where are the other lands in the vicinity? Who owns them? My long list of Freedom of Information requests to King Township tells me it has no records of any search for lands suitable for a new hospital. No names. No addresses. No details. Nothing.
The Township’s Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor, refuses to say if, in his view, it would be possible in Planning Law, to build a new hospital on protected countryside in the Greenbelt. When I asked him for his own professional view he referred me to the Province. We know there is nothing in King’s Official Plan (2019) which anticipates any development on the Bathurst lands.
Pellegrini says he has been searching for a suitable site for a new hospital since 2019. This is before Southlake publicly confirmed it was searching for a second site. Southlake’s Master Plan which flagged up the two-site strategy went into the Ministry of Health on 31 January 2020.
John Dunlap, King landowner, land agent, Southlake Board member
In February 2020, Pellegrini received an email from King landowner, John Dunlap, asking for a meeting
“to catch up on a few businesses trying to come to King. One is a large equestrian group who would be great to have in the Township.”
The Township has no other records of contact between Pellegrini and Dunlap except this one.
John Dunlap is the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands from Bob Schickedanz (the then President of the Ontario Home Builders Association) to Michael Rice. But, importantly, Dunlap at this time was a member of the Board of Southlake. He also owns land immediately adjacent and to the south of the Rice lands.
To this day, Southlake says it has no records of the offer of land made by Rice to it on 1 November 2022. It will not say when the offer was reported to the Board. It will not say which Board member declared a conflict of interest at the Board meeting on 22 September 2022 nor its nature. It will not say if it took independent advice from professional planners on whether a new hospital could be built on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. I have a clutch of appeals on these matters – some outstanding since March 2023 – which are now actively being dealt with by the Information and Privacy Commissioner. (Photo right: Arden Krystal)
Rice believed protected countryside in the Greenbelt was suitable for a hospital
Which brings me back to Michael Rice.
Astonishingly, this developer with decades of experience seems to have bought the untutored Pellegrini line that the Bathurst lands could accommodate a new hospital. The Integrity Commissioner writes:
“… it was his understanding (Pellegrini’s) that, unlike other types of development, hospitals were permitted to be built on Greenbelt lands and not subject to the sewage treatment allocation rules that could potentially limit residential development in the area.”
Did Pellegrini ever ask Stephen Naylor if a hospital could be built on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt? If so, what was the answer? Did he ever ask Paul Freeman, York Region’s expert and experienced Chief Planner?
Rice "sticking to it"
But, for me, the most astonishing revelation to come out of the Integrity Commissioner’s report is this one. In paragraph 290:
Mr. Rice explained that if he had known in the summer of 2022 that the King Township property would be removed from the Greenbelt, he would not have entered into the discussions about using part of this particular site for the hospital. However, he told me that given his earlier discussions, he is “committed” and “sticking to it” with respect to making land available for the hospital.
We are asked to believe that Michael Rice only offered land to the hospital because he believed the land was to remain in the Greenbelt!
If he had known the Bathurst lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt he would not have offered a chunk of it for a new Southlake. The inference being he would have developed it all but minus a hospital.
The penny drops
It was only in late September – when Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, personally called on Rice at his office in Markham – that the penny finally dropped and Rice figured out his Bathurst lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt with all the millions of dollars that would come his way as a consequence.
If Rice only became certain in late September 2022 that his Bathurst lands were coming out of the Greenbelt then I believe in leprachauns.
The hard-nosed businessman, Michael Rice, told the Integrity Commissioner that because he had been in discussions with Southlake for some time about offering a site suitable for a new hospital he was going to stick with it. Even though no firm commitment had been given to Southlake until 1 November 2022. That is very noble of him.
Clearly, we are nowhere near ready to close the book on this chapter on Ford’s serial corruption.
We still do not know in its entirety who knew what and when they knew it.
And it beggars belief that one of the main actors in this drama – Southlake Regional Health Centre – has escaped forensic scrutiny.
We need a Public Inquiry.
(Click "Read More" below for the evidence of Michael Rice as reported by the Integrity Commissioner)
Update on 26 September 2023: Yesterday Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called on Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake "to exercise the powers afforded to him under the Members’ Integrity Act to trigger a public inquiry into Doug Ford’s $8.3 billion Greenbelt scandal". Comments from Patrick Macklem, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Toronto, start at 6m 45s in to the video.
The evidence of Michael Rice and Mayor Steve Pellegrini:
 Approximately 522 acres was removed from the Greenbelt at the King Township site and 132 acres within the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan was redesignated from “countryside” to “settlement area” for a total of 654 acres.
 As set out above, at the September 14, 2022 BILD dinner, Mr. Rice mentioned this property briefly to Mr. Amato as a good candidate for removal from the Greenbelt.
 Mr. Rice told me that Mr. Amato called him at his office a few days or a week after the BILD dinner and asked if he could put together a package of information on the site. As a result of receiving this request, in combination with their brief interaction at the BILD dinner, Mr. Rice believed the government was looking at the Greenbelt.
 Mr. Rice said he would put together a package, which he then did, and then Mr. Amato came to his office to pick up the package around the end of September. They spoke briefly again at his office, and Mr. Rice said he “walked him through it,” saying “here is the site, here are the benefits.”
 Mr. Rice provided Mr. Amato with a document dated September 27, 2022, with a map outlining the area proposed to be removed from the Greenbelt, a rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of various servicing options for the site. John McGovern, Senior Vice President of Policy and Planning for the Rice Group, confirmed that he pulled together this package of information for Mr. Rice and that it was his understanding that Mr. Rice would be meeting with Mr. Amato the next morning. This indicates that Mr. Rice and Mr. Amato met on or about September 27 or 28, 2022.
 Mr. Amato confirmed that he called Mr. Rice a few days after the BILD dinner. He said he asked “if he could provide me with any additional information on the property. And I ran through some of the high-level criteria that we were discussing at the time. Those were questions that needed to be answered and he said he would get something together. But in that conversation, there was no mention of a program. It was just a question following up on something hementioned to me in passing.” He confirmed he met with Mr. Rice at Mr. Rice’s office to pick up the package.
 Mr. Amato told me he did not know if he had met Michael Rice prior to meeting him at the BILD dinner.
 Mr. Rice told me he had met Mr. Amato at a handful of fundraisers and events prior to the BILD dinner. He also explained that in the spring of 2022 Mr. Amato assisted his daughter in organizing a fundraiser for Minister Caroline Mulroney, attended by approximately 25 people. This occurred while Mr. Amato was working for Minister Mulroney. Mr. Rice advised that he did not recall corresponding with Mr. Amato at the time, but that his daughter was in touch with Mr.
Amato in March of 2022, after her earlier contact in Minister Mulroney’s office took a leave of absence, to decide the date of the fundraiser.
 When asked about this, Mr. Amato confirmed that he was briefly in touch with Mr. Rice’s daughter to confirm a date for the fundraiser, but said he had no further involvement with it. He said it was not part of his duties to organize the fundraiser, only to coordinate it with the minister’s schedule.
 There has been speculation in the media and in Ms. Stiles’ affidavit that Mr. Rice must have been tipped off about the government’s intentions, in part because he obtained title to it on September 15, 2022. This was less than two months before 522 acres of it were removed from the Greenbelt and 132 acres of it were redesignated as a settlement area within the Oak Ridges Moraine.
 Mr. Rice is an experienced land developer, who has significant industrial and commercial land holdings, in addition to some residential holdings. He is adamant that no one tipped him off or told him that the government would be taking land out of the Greenbelt. He said “[t]he crystal ball that they mentioned in the paper that we must have had is our knowledge and what we do on an every day basis on Greenbelt land, on Whitebelt land, on developed lands, lands that aregoing to come into the urban belt, airport land, that’s our business.” As set out above, at paragraph 95, Mr. Rice explained to me his longer-term rationale for thinking the government would permit development on Greenbelt lands at some point in the future because the housing crisis was becoming so acute with an increasing population and limited land supply. He told me he was convinced that the Greenbelt would open if even the Liberal Party came into power in the 2022 election and that if, by 2022, a developer was not thinking about the Greenbelt opening up “they were asleep.” He noted that his staff track every municipal meeting in addition to provincial developments. As factors shaping his thinking, he pointed to some actions of this government, including that he understood the government had “told the regional municipalities, ‘We want your [official plan] in here in June of ’22. File it. It has to be done or we will take action on our own.’” He also mentioned the 2019 More Homes, More Choice Act, telling me “I mean that was the beginning of the smashing of the conservation authority which changes your
perspective on land.” He told me “So this government has made it abundantly clear since like ’19 or ’20, ‘This is what we’re doing, we’re moving development ahead.’ That didn’t mean ‘Yes, we are taking it out of the Greenbelt.’ They never said that. I said they’re taking it out of the Greenbelt because we don’t have land.”
 Mr. Rice shared with me copies of agendas for his company’s acquisitions meetings from April through November 2022, indicating there was a “Greenbelt Strategy” item discussed regularly with a number of different areas and sites discussed, including the King Township property.
 Mr. Rice candidly admitted that his interactions with Mr. Amato, specifically their brief interaction at the BILD dinner and then Mr. Amato’s request for further information and visit to Mr. Rice’s office to pick up that information, “told me that they were looking at the Greenbelt.” However, he said that “in fairness to Ryan and the minister, he never told me they were doing it.” Mr. Rice was also clear he didn’t think it was going to happen as early as November 2022.
 Mr. Rice provided me with a copy of the investment proposal he developed for potential investors. He advised that he “syndicated” this land deal, by taking on several other investors to fund a large proportion of the $80,000,000 purchase price for this property. Taking on limited partners lowered both his risk and the profits he might earn from this investment. He told me, and I accept, that if he had known the lands would be removed from the Greenbelt so soon, he would have funded the purchase himself. He also told me that he offered the vendor, Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., an opportunity to participate in the investment but that they declined.
 I spoke with Bob Schickedanz, a partner in Farsight Homes and former president of the Ontario Home Builders Associations from 2019 to 2022. He confirmed that while he is not on the leadership team of Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., he worked there from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, he has an interest in this family company and was familiar with the sale of the property to the Rice Group. He explained that Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. was leaving the land development business and offering this property for public sale for $80 million was part of this process. He was aware that subsequent to entering into the initial agreement of purchase and sale, Mr. Rice had
made two further offers to Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. with respect to this property. One was to participate in syndication and remain invested in the site, and the other was to agree to a one- year extension of the agreement of purchase and sale, with a new price of $200 million. He said his family business decided to proceed with the initial agreement closing in 2022 because they thought it was a good deal and, in their view, the one-year extension would not likely result in a sale and the land would have been tied up for another year. He said they had absolutely no idea the government was considering removals from the Greenbelt.
 It also has been brought to my attention through media reporting and submissions received from the public, that there was speculation that Mr. Rice must have known something in advance about the government’s intentions. This speculation was founded largely because before the November 4, 2022 announcement on Greenbelt removals, Mr. Rice was in discussions with a local hospital and representatives of King Township about using some of this property for a new hospital site.
 My staff interviewed the mayor and chief administrative officer of King Township. Both confirmed that in the summer of 2022 the mayor raised with Mr. Rice the possibility of using some of this land for a hospital. The mayor explained that he was of the view that a hospital located within King Township would be very beneficial to his community and it was his understanding that, unlike other types of development, hospitals were permitted to be built on Greenbelt lands and not subject to the sewage treatment allocation rules that could potentially limit residential development in the area. The mayor explained that other lands in the vicinity had already been discussed as a possible hospital site and that if Mr. Rice contributed land from his recently purchased property, he believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township.
 Both Mr. Rice and Mr. McGovern, who also attended the meeting with the mayor and the chief administrative officer, told me these officials initiated the conversation about using some of this particular piece of land as a new hospital site. They also told me that Mr. Rice had already been discussing using other properties he owned in the region for the new hospital site and provided documentation to support his evidence in this regard with respect to past
communications with hospital officials and other sites under consideration. With respect to the King Township site, Mr. Rice and his employee told me they were interested in the hospital option, as they anticipated they would be able to potentially develop medical buildings, a long- term care facility and other long-term assets on land that was in the Greenbelt and not necessarily available for other types of development.
 Mr. Rice explained that if he had known in the summer of 2022 that the King Township property would be removed from the Greenbelt, he would not have entered into the discussions about using part of this particular site for the hospital. However, he told me that given his earlier discussions, he is “committed” and “sticking to it” with respect to making land available for the hospital.
 Mr. Rice also confirmed that he had retained Nico Fidani-Diker, Principal at ONpoint Strategy Group, to assist with obtaining municipal support for projects in the Town of Caledon and Region of Peel in the summer and fall of 2022. He said that Mr. Fidani-Diker was not hired to lobby at the provincial level.