The Mayor of King Township, Steve Pellegrini, knows a lot more about the Greenbelt scandal than he is letting on.
It seems to me he keeps his own Council in the dark.
And, for some unfathomable reason, they are terrified to ask about his role in trying to get a new hospital built on prime agricultural land in King’s protected Greenbelt.
The evidence shows Mayor Pellegrini cannot be relied upon to tell the truth. He said the first time he spoke to the developer Michael Rice was at a meeting on 1 November 2022 when Rice offered Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, land in the protected Greenbelt for a new hospital for a nominal fee. Pellegrini’s statement was false. And, to this day, he continues to dissemble.
Pellegrini's lunch with Rice
Pellegrini had lunch with Michael Rice at the Terra Restaurant in Vaughan on 10 August 2022 and had a meeting with the developer on 17 October 2022 to discuss the presentation to Southlake on 1 November 2022. Why did Pellegrini lie? It is inconceivable he would have forgotten meeting Michael Rice earlier.
On 19 April 2023, Pellegrini told me by email:
"I ask(ed) Mr. Rice at our lunch if he would be interested in donating land for the proposed 2nd Southlake. The follow-up meeting was to deal with this matter."
The follow-up meeting on 17 October 2022 included King's Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor.
"Moving this idea forward since 2019"
Pellegrini told the King Sentinel in February that he had been intimately involved in the search for a suitable site for a second Southlake:
“I have been moving this idea forward since 2019 – on different lands, with different landowners. At the time of our meeting, I brought the idea of a hospital forward to the Rice Group and they were open to discussion.”
But now, fearful where this Greenbelt scandal is going, he is furiously back-peddling, portraying himself as an interested bystander, insisting the real decisions will be taken by the Province and Southlake. (Click “read more” below for Pellegrini interview with Kelly Cutrara)
In his report of 30 August 2023, the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, wrote in paragraph 288:
“… the Mayor explained that other lands in the vicinity (of the Bathurst site) 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.”
No-one on King Council – neither elected officials nor senior staff – will admit to knowing where these “other lands” are. Nor will they say who was involved in the discussions on whether these lands would be suitable for a new hospital. The Township has no records of any search for land suitable for a new hospital. Their Director of Growth Management, the tight-lipped Stephen Naylor, says nothing. There are no records of meetings where these “other lands” were considered. And no-one on King Council is curious enough to ask him.
Why doesn’t someone just ask him?
I would love to have an hour on a public platform with Mayor Pellegrini, just the two of us, taking him through the Greenbelt scandal in his own municipality, asking him what he knew and when he knew it. But I doubt that’s going to happen.
Deputation turned down
So I put in for a deputation to speak to King Council on either 16 or 30 October 2023, whichever was the more convenient for them. In the five minutes allocated, I intended to put one or two simple and straightforward questions directly to Mayor Pellegrini, asking him to identify the “other lands” suitable for a new hospital and who was involved in the discussions. And who was the other party?
Unhappily, the Township Clerk, Denny Timm, tells me a deputation is not possible as:
“Council does not offer an open forum component during its meetings. Council’s procedural by-law precludes deputations on matters that are outside Council’s jurisdiction. Your request pertains to the Integrity Commissioner’s Report, the hospital site selection, and provincial decisions regarding the Greenbelt lands – matters that are outside of Council’s jurisdiction and within the jurisdiction of the Province. I am therefore unable to accommodate your request.”
It's too bad there is no open forum. Nor any report from staff updating Council members on the Province's change of heart on developing the Greenbelt. Perhaps I would have been able to hang a deputation on the back of that.
Code of Conduct.
King Township’s Code of Conduct tells me:
“Members shall act and are expected to perform their functions with honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency.”
“in all respects, a member shall refrain from making statements known to be false or with intent to mislead Council or the public.”
I have been in touch with some other members of King Council about Pellegrini’s “other lands’ but they cannot shed any light on these discussions – when they happened and who was involved. I wrote to elected officials on 25 September 2023 (Click “read more” to see email) but all I get is radio silence.
Silence no longer an option
With the RCMP now involved, looking the other way is no longer a sustainable or defensible position.
On Tuesday 10 October 2023, the RCMP announced it was launching a criminal investigation into
“allegations associated to the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development.”
Yet less than two months ago - on 25 August 2023 - Doug Ford, the archetypal wide boy, told reporters he was confident nothing criminal took place in the lead up to the decision to open-up parts of the protected Greenbelt to development.
The RCMP should interview Steve Pellegrini under caution to find out what he knew about the deal to build on prime agricultural land in the protected Greenbelt in his own municipality and when he knew it.
Pellegrini should break the habit of a lifetime and tell the truth.
Click "read more" below for Pellegrini's interview with Kelly Cutrara and for my email to King Township's elected Officials.
Kelly Cutrara: On this absolutely stellar Wednesday, October 4th is just beautiful. It's like July weather in October. 26 degrees feels more like 31 and we haven't even hit our high. We set a record yesterday. Nice. Gotta love it.
Six minutes after two’clock. I really appreciate your time if you're listening in Hamilton, if you're listening in London, if you're listening in Toronto or on the radio player Canada, thanks for being here.
I know you're busy and one of the things that we've been talking a lot about is the Greenbelt land. First of all people were upset that some developers were allowed to develop parcels within the Greenbelt and that Doug Ford went back on his word. And some people were not upset. They were happy that things were going to be opening up. And then Doug Ford was digging his heels in and saying well I'm not going to change my mind on this, you know, we're just going to open up the Greenbelt.
And then there was the massive about-face. The story keeps getting weirder because he went above and beyond and now he's codifying the Greenbelt lands into law. That should be interesting so it's going to be even harder to open up the Greenbelt.
But one of the things that I think he didn't lean heavily enough into is the fact that there were some advantages to opening-up the Greenbelt that we're really going to help us all. One of the things was the proposed hospital that would be built on land… it was going to be built on the Greenbelt. Now that is off the table. This was going to be built by developer Mike Rice who brought bought an $80 million Greenbelt property less than two months before the province revealed last November that it intended to remove the protections from his land and fourteen others.
He was lobbied by King city mayor Steve Pellegrini. He asked him to donate some of the land for a new hospital because the Southlake - the hospital - is absolutely rammed right now. And it's overcrowded and they need desperately a second hospital in the area. Here to talk about it is Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of King City. Thanks for joining us Steve.
Mayor Steve Pellegrini: Good afternoon Kelly. How are you?
Kelly Cutrara: I'm great. You know we were hearing about how long it takes to develop. We were just talking about this with the Toronto real estate board to develop property into anything these days… We’re ten years behind. We're even more behind when it comes to infrastructure like hospitals. We have to really get a move on things here.
So now that this has been cancelled and it's just not going to happen… hopes are dashed in that area… what's next? Do you have to try and work within city limits to find land that could be used and utilized to make a hospital?
Steve Pellegrini: At the end of the day it's really Southlake Regional Healthcare Centre in the province of Ontario that will determine the preferred location for the second Southlake Regional Healthcare. But as you said, health care is of the utmost important to a high quality of life. And it impacts all of York region and beyond… so the catchment for Bradford and surrounding areas as well as not just York region.
Kelly Cutrara: OK so the city has to work with the hospital board to try and find… I’m sorry… the province has got to work with the hospital board to try and find a new land. I know that you had some influence when it came to talking to Mr. Rice about getting that second hospital built on the Greenbelt. So do you have any role at all?
Steve Pellegrini: No role. Council was unanimous in our position to request for consideration of the second Southlake hospital on those lands. And, as I said, this will be something that's up to both Southlake and the province to determine where to go.
King has always been an incredible steward of the environment. In fact, you know, people look at us as the central park of the GTA. And, you know, the hospital, it is vital to the (indistinct) sustainability of a good community so we hope that somewhere in and around… 'cause they want it close to Southlake… they want to be able to transfer staff… get doctors, nurses, facility staff back and forth… for us to be rapid transit. It has to be, you know, ability to be serviced… then all these great things.
So I hope that the hospital… they have a team looking to find other sites…
Kelly Cutrara: OK so you're not in communication and you're not privy to… they must be looking for other sites. But, that said, were you shocked that Doug Ford went above and beyond and is now codifying that land because it really doesn't give you the opportunity to hope that maybe some of the Greenbelt boundaries will eventually move.
It means it's going to be really difficult to do that now.
Steve Pellegrini: Oh yeah. We're still analysing the provincial announcement. We want to understand what it means for infrastructure. There's a lot of infrastructure that is put in the Greenbelt…you know the big question is… and I know a lot of environmentalists are there saying:
“Hey! The 413 is going to go through the Greenbelt.”
Does that mean that's dead too? Where do they draw the line on what infrastructure is permitted in the Greenbelt?
Kelly Cutrara: OK, Steve. It sounds like you’re in a kind of holding pattern. That's not great for your constituents who are going to be basically just stuck when it comes to hospital space. It’s just going to be a situation where everybody keeps their fingers crossed that nothing bad happens before that second hospital is built.
Steve Pellegrini: Yeah. Ultimately the decision rests with the province and Southlake. We believe they’ll come to some agreement and, like you said, the problem has existed for years now. We have to start moving. The same thing comes with homes and affordable homes. Everybody’s talking about it. But we gotta get shovels in the ground and we gotta get movin’ on some of these things quickly.
Kelly Cutrara: Steve, when we were talking to TREB (Toronto Real Estate Board) they were basically talking about… it seemed to be… the roadblocks the developers face. I know municipalities have their own plan on how quickly they want to grow. How much (time) have you had to really look at those plans and reassess them in a realistic manner in order to make sure that you grow in a way that is in line with what the province expects but is still in keeping with the community that you set up?
Steve Pellegrini: Our Official Plan right now is under review. We just finished doing a review but, because of bill 23 and some others, you have to bring them into conformity and to bring it up to 2051 to align with the provincial plan. We have over 2,500 ground plan approved homes right now. The developers aren’t building. I'll give you one last little bit…
Kelly Cutrara: Why aren’t they building them… before we get into that last little bit?
Steve Pellegrini: I was just gonna emphasize they're not building. We’ve collected so far 6% of our development charges for this year, for our forecasted year. And it's 10 months in. And they're not building because people are concerned right now about interest rates, costs, and even, quite frankly, some of the regulations about affordable housing. That needs to be determined because it has an impact on development charges. So until we know the answers to everything I think there's going to be a bit of a waiting game from the builders.
Kelly Cutrara: So the province is urging you to act but until the province gets their act in gear nobody's gonna act… is what I'm hearing.
Steve Pellegrini: Well that… and consumers… right now.
Kelly Cutrara: Yeah.
Steve Pellegrini: We've got lots of product for sale. It's not moving. People are hunkering down right now and I think are really taking a good second look. The spontaneous speculation I think has dried up. I think, you know, it's a decision, a very important decision, that people are weighing the pros and cons before they jump into the market now.
Kelly Cutrara: Alright, well Steve thank you very much. I appreciate your time and I wish you the best of luck in finding that second spot for that hospital.
Steve Pellegrini: Thanks Kelly. Anytime. And, hey, it's always beautiful in King like today.
Kelly Cutrara: Really? You've got your own weather pattern?
Steve Pellegrini: That's right. Come visit. We got our own microclimate up here.
Kelly Cutrara: Alright. Steve Pellegrini thank you very much. Mayor of King City.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
From: gordon prentice
Subject: A new Hospital on the Greenbelt at Bathurst
Date: September 25, 2023 at 2:47:15 PM EDT
To: King elected officials
Cc Stephen Naylor, Denny Timm and Daniel Kostopoulos
Good afternoon elected officials
I live in Newmarket and write as one of your neighbours who has long been concerned about the future of the prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in King at Bathurst.
I listened with great interest to the CBC radio program which featured your colleague, Councillor Avia Eek. I shared her delight in the news that the Bathurst lands would be returning to the Greenbelt.
We know that the Government will be introducing new legislation this week to safeguard the Greenbelt but, as yet, we do not know its terms.
The developer, Michael Rice, who bought the Bathurst lands on 15 September 2022, told the Integrity Commissioner he firmly believed the lands he purchased would remain in the Greenbelt. He also believed planning law would allow him to build a new hospital on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt and that he further believed there was a possibility of building adjacent medical facilities and a long-term care home and these too would be in the Greenbelt.
I am left wondering if this was the view of your Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor?
Your Official Plan was only completed in 2019 and there is no mention of institutional development – or, indeed, any kind of development on the Bathurst lands.
There is nothing in York Region’s Official Plan that would encourage anyone to believe the Bathurst lands were developable.
I am copying this to Mr Naylor in the hope he might address this issue. I asked for his professional view as a planner some months ago but he referred me to the Province for an answer.
The Mayor was also interviewed by the Integrity Commissioner. Mr Pellegrini told Mr Wake that he had been searching for a new hospital site in King since 2019 – before Southlake had publicly revealed its two-site strategy.
In paragraph 288 of the Integrity Commissioner’s report Mr Pellegrini explained that:
“other lands in the vicinity (of Bathurst) 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.”
Does anyone know where these “other lands” are?
Who discussed the suitability of these other lands? Who are the landowners? I have drawn a complete blank.
I have filed countless Freedom of Information requests with the municipality over many months but the Township has no records which can give me the answers.
I should be very grateful for any help you can give.
My only concern is that the Greenbelt in King – and elsewhere – should be protected and that all the relevant laws and regulations should be followed meticulously.
We know from the Auditor General’s report and the other one from the Integrity Commissioner that the entire process of removing land from the Greenbelt was flawed from the very start.
I have pasted below the relevant parts of the Integrity Commissioner’s report.
As a courtesy I am copying this also to your Chief Administrative Officer and Township Clerk.
Extract from report of Integrity Commissioner re King Township
 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 he mentioned 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 are going 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.