Southlake has no records of the consequential meeting on 1 November 2022 – other than an undated invitation – in which developer Michael Rice offered land for a new hospital in protected countryside in the Greenbelt in King for a nominal fee, reportedly $5.
This has always perplexed me.
I now know why.
It was an initial conversation. No more no less.
Southlake's Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, says she was not particularly invested in the Bathurst site. It was just one of a number of possibilities.
In material released to me last week following my appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner she explains:
“At an initial meeting such as this, we listen to ideas, but do not conduct any form of negotiations or even get into specifics. As such, it isn’t customary to take notes - it is essentially just a conversation.
If opportunities appear to have some merit, we would then begin more intentional or formal meetings in such cases, where minutes or notes could or would be taken.
However, because we were about to embark on a formal land acquisition process, we opted to consider this opportunity along with the other potential lands available, which resulted in fair evaluations of all lands in question.”
Arden Krystal says that neither she nor the Vice President of Capital, Facilities and Business Development, John Marshman, (who was also present at the 1 November 2022 meeting) had ever met Michael Rice before. She insists that she and John Marshman
“shared any and all records, and do not have any further records to share pertaining to this meeting.”
Southlake and the Rice Group
We know the hospital had been in contact with the Rice Group at least ten months previously. In January 2022 Jordan Holt, the Rice Group’s manager of acquisitions and finance, asked for a meeting about the hospital’s expansion plans. In an email he told John Marshman that he would:
“prepare a preliminary overview of our company/land holdings that may be of interest to you.”
On 26 January 2022 John Marshman had a follow-up meeting with Holt.
In his report at paragraph 289, the Integrity Commissioner noted that Michael Rice had been in communication with hospital officials about other possible hospital sites – not just the Bathurst Greenbelt lands.
So, when Arden Krystal said the 1 November 2022 meeting was just an initial meeting and the conversation didn’t go into specifics it was against a backdrop of previous communications between Southlake and the Rice Group.
I am left wondering if, at any stage, either of them asked if the Bathurst lands – prime agricultural lands in the protected countryside of the Greenbelt – could be developed. It is inconceivable to me that this core issue was never addressed head-on.
This is one of the key questions at issue. According to King’s Official Plan (2019) and York Region’s Official Plan the Bathurst Greenbelt lands were out-of-bounds for development.
Despite this, key players believed the land was developable.
Four term Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, insists a new hospital can be built anywhere if the Province so decides. Following that logic, even in the middle of the Holland Marsh, Canada’s most productive farmland.
Stephen Naylor, the Director of Growth Management at King, who was responsible for King’s Official Plan, would not express a view. When I asked for his opinion as a professional planner he referred me to the Province.
Michael Rice, the developer, believed the Greenbelt’s protected countryside was going to be opened-up for development to some extent because of the shortage of land for new housing. He believed it was an open secret in the development community that things were going to change. He was just sharper and quicker off the mark than other developers. After meeting Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, at the BILD dinner on 14 September 2022 and again on 27 September 2022 he had worked out for himself that the Government was “looking at the Greenbelt”.
We have never been told if Arden Krystal or John Marshman took advice from professional planners on matters which might constrain development.
Bathurst ticked all the boxes
I do not know if Michael Rice shared with them on 1 November 2022 the material he gave to Amato on 27 September 2022. This bundle showed the area Rice would like to see removed from the Greenbelt, the rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming that consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of the various servicing options for the site. (Photo right: the Bathurst lands)
In any event, it seems the Bathurst lands ticked all the boxes for Arden Krystal who told Mayor Pellegrini on 7 November 2022 that she was “truly excited” about the awesome offer of Greenbelt land at Bathurst for a peppercorn.
Criteria for site selection
From August 2021, if not before, it was public knowledge that Southlake was looking for a second site. Arden Krystal said it should be within 5km – 10km of the existing site “and the closer the better”. She hoped some land could be gifted by benefactors.
Did she just assume that a new hospital could be located anywhere?
Last month, Southlake told Newmarket Today its search for a new site remains ongoing.
“While we have evaluated more than 25 properties against criteria such as size, proximity to the communities we serve, and transit accessibility, we have not yet secured a site and are continuing our efforts to find land to build a new Southlake...”
When did Southlake first learn that the gifted Bathurst lands were in a prime agricultural area in the Greenbelt's protected countryside? And what were the implications of this?
Did Arden Krystal or John Marshman take advice on whether this land could be developed?
If so, who did they ask?
Update on 30 October 2023: from the Toronto Star: RCMP to start interviews in Doug Ford's Greenbelt scandal this week, sources say and from EcoJustice: Ontario government political staff directed changes to municipal official plans to favour the interests of select landowners
From the Integrity Commissioner's Report, paragraph 289
Both Mr Rice and Mr McGovern, who also attended the meeting (on 1 November 2022) with the mayor and chief administrative officer (of King Township) 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 available for other types of development.