I learned on Tuesday (28th November) that King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, was the person who invited Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, to the hugely consequential meeting on 1 November 2022 when developer Michael Rice promised to gift land to Southlake for a new hospital, located in the Greenbelt’s protected countryside.  

Why should this simple fact be considered remotely newsworthy?

Because for the past year Arden Krystal has been insisting Southlake had no records of that meeting – not even the details of the invitation she received to attend it. 

She continues to insist no notes were taken on what happened during that one-and-a-half hour meeting at King Municipal Centre.

Hypothetical and High Level

Arden Krystal says:

“During the November 1, 2022 meeting, discussions remained hypothetical and high level with no commitment to action. It was merely a discussion of potential opportunities since the land in question was in the Greenbelt and, therefore, unavailable in its current state. Even if the land had been available, we were not in a position to provide meaningful commitment as Southlake had not even convened its formal strategic process for development.”

Krystal says that Pellegrini got in touch with her towards the end of September 2022 by phone and said he had a potential landowner she should speak with. This was Michael Rice whose people had been in touch with Southlake’s capital and facilities chief, John Marshman, eight months earlier in January 2022 suggesting they had land which might be suitable for a new hospital.

We know from his evidence to the Integrity Commissioner that on 27 or 28 September 2022 - after Rice met the then Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, at his Markham head office - he (Rice) concluded that Government policy on the Greenbelt was going to change. 

No mention of a new hospital

In the package of materials Rice handed over to Amato there was no mention of a new hospital on the Bathurst lands. In his submission to the provincial government Rice, for his own reasons, proposed developing the land for housing.

On 17 October 2022 Pellegrini hosted a Southlake expansion pre-meeting at King Municipal Centre which involved Rice and his planning policy chief John McGovern as well as King’s Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor. The Township says it has no records of this meeting and what was discussed. 

The pre-meeting most likely rehearsed the themes for the 1 November 2022 meeting with Southlake.

Long Term Care

Rice told the Integrity Commissioner that he believed planning law would allow a new hospital to be built on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. He further believed there was a possibility of building adjacent medical facilities and a long-term care home alongside, again in the protected Greenbelt.

It is likely these issues formed part of the agenda on 1 November 2022. But locating a long-term care home next to an acute hospital had never been flagged up in Southlake’s public consultation exercise nor in its Master Plan so far as I can gather. (The Master Plan is not available to the public.)

In her letter of 27 November 2023, Arden Krystal strenuously denies that any notes were taken following the 1 November 2022 meeting when Rice made the offer of land, essentially for free.

“After that meeting, I had an informal discussion about the potential opportunity with our Vice President of Capital and Facilities, John Marshman. Notes were not generated from this discussion given its casual nature. I reserved the opportunity for formal discussion and accurate note-taking to the more appropriate forum, which would be the formal evaluations required for any upcoming Land Acquisition selection process.”

Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity

On 16 January 2023 Southlake held a site selection meeting to review the “Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity” which may have been part of the land acquisition selection process. I don’t know. But the agenda (below) clearly raises issues which would have been discussed at the 1 November 2022 meeting, namely the location of the hospital, the acreage required and the LTC fit – which I take to be a reference to long term care. 

So the question arises: how was the discussion on 1 November 2022 reported back to the Site Selection meeting if not by notes? Perhaps it was all done by word-of-mouth. I simply don’t know.

On 30 January 2023 John Marshman emailed Nathan Robinson, Southlake’s manager, capital development, about the “preliminary concept plan” 

“Please share with the Architects etc asap. Recognising this is not a sufficient parcel to meet our preliminary assessment, it at least provides a general location and preliminary configuration to block from.”

We know that Rice was looking at making lands available in the south-east corner of his Bathurst lands but, on their own, did this meet Southlake’s requirements?

The "other lands"

The Integrity Commissioner interviewed Steve Pellegrini who told him 

"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”.

I have long believed the proposed hospital site straddled the lands owned by Rice and John Dunlap, a former member of Southlake Board and the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands to Rice. The very familiar graphic (right) which was presented to the 1 November 2022 meeting by Michael Rice suggests as much. Dunlap’s lands are to the immediate south of the Rice lands and are contiguous.

Ten months ago, I asked King Township the name of the landowner who offered land in the vicinity of the Bathurst site and its precise location. Only now, after an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) and months of endless foot-dragging is King Township willing to disclose this information, telling me I can expect a response on 7 December 2023 (after the landowner has been consulted). If the landowner appeals, citing an invasion of privacy, the matter could drag on into 2024.

Similarly, I know that a Southlake Board member declared a conflict of interest which was reported to the Board meeting on 22 September 2022. Again, after the intervention of the IPC, Southlake is now prepared to disclose that information but the person in question has the right to appeal on the grounds that disclosure may affect their personal privacy.

After a year looking at the Greenbelt scandal in King we are only now getting close to a full understanding of what really happened when the protected countryside in the Greenbelt at Bathurst was opened up for development by the Ford Government.

Dr Paul Woods takes over from Arden Krystal as Southlake’s Chief Executive on 3 January 2024.

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