It has taken over a year to establish in broad outline what happened when Michael Rice and John Dunlap offered land in the protected Greenbelt to Southlake for a new acute hospital. 

On 4 November 2022 Doug Ford gambled on opening up parts of the Greenbelt to development.

Ford believed he could ride out the storm. Instead, his plan backfired spectacularly. The Greenbelt became a radioactive issue for the Progressive Conservatives. But it took the Premier until September 2023 to admit his “mistake” and formally abandon the policy.

And while we still don’t have the full picture we are, bit by bit, getting closer to the truth. 

Meanwhile, out of the limelight, the RCMP investigation grinds on. 

What are the outstanding issues?

Despite the two landmark reports from the Integrity Commissioner and the Auditor General we still don’t know the full extent of the discussions, understandings and agreements between Southlake and its two declared benefactors, Michael Rice and John Dunlap, who both offered their own lands in the protected Greenbelt west of Bathurst in King as the location of a new acute hospital. 

The Mayor of King, Steve Pellegrini, was a key intermediary between Southlake and Rice.

Pellegrini deliberately and repeatedly misled the press and public as to what really happened. Pellegrini also knew from March 2020 that Dunlap was prepared to gift land to Southlake.

If we are to fully understand how everything fits together, we need sight of the records which show the proposed location of the hospital and all ancillary buildings on the lands in the protected Greenbelt owned by Michael Rice and John Dunlap.

The Colliers Report

In 2023 but possibly before, Southlake commissioned the real estate firm Colliers to identify sites for a new acute hospital within a 10km radius of the existing campus on Davis Drive in Newmarket and to advise on their suitability. 

Colliers considered five selection criteria: (1) serviceability (2) proximity to existing campus (3) accessibility by transit and regional corridors (4) zoning and (5) proximity to residential and incompatible uses.

The heavily redacted report says:

“the size and configuration of the site can have an impact on the suitability for flexible, healthcare-appropriate planning, for potential future development and expansion, and to minimise the impact of phasing construction over a longer period. 

"Factors considered included (1) the overall size of the property (2) the overall shape of the site (rectangular, triangular, multifaceted?) (3) the depth of the property (can limit key adjacencies, access and expansion) (4) the topography of the site (level, sloped, variable) (5) site frontage (can impact access and visibility) and (6) site features (can limit developable area and planning flexibility).”

Few potential sites available

Colliers’ May 2023 report concludes:

“…there are few potential sites available which meet all criteria. Much of the land within the search area is designated as greenbelt or Oak Ridges Moraine, significantly restricting the amount of developable land. There are significant constraints with the existing servicing system for the northern York region which poses challenges for many potential sites. As a result of these constraints, the costs for available lands that are unencumbered are very high.”

Colliers say that sites within the Greenbelt or Oak Ridges Moraine:

“were not considered as realistic opportunities based on current development restrictions”. 

And this realisation came months before Ford formally abandoned his policy in September 2023 to allow development in the Greenbelt. 

We must assume Southlake is still searching for a suitable site. 

How did we get here?

To recap. On 1 November 2022 at a meeting at King Municipal Centre the wealthy developer Michael Rice offered Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, Greenbelt land at Bathurst for a new acute hospital.

To this day Southlake insists there is no record of that consequential meeting. 

On 27 November 2023 Arden Krystal, who has since retired, explained what happened:

“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 redevelopment.

After that meeting, I had an informal discussion about the potential opportunity with our VP 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.”

King Township, which was to be home to the new Southlake, also says it has no records. 

Word of Mouth or Telepathy?

The Southlake Board gave responsibility for finding a new site to its Land Acquisition Committee but how did it learn about the offer of land from Rice if there were no written records?

Word of mouth? Telepathy?

In December 2023 Southlake told me they had located records which may explain how the Land Acquisition Committee learned about the gift of land but third parties have to be consulted before these can be released. I should know tomorrow (Monday 26 February) if I can see them.

Follow-up meeting

Astonishingly, Southlake also tells me there was a “follow-up” to the 1 November 2022 meeting on 19 December 2022. This was news to me. 

When I asked King for sight of records of that meeting on 19 December 2022 I was told it had been postponed to 24 January 2023. And if I wanted to know if there were any records of that meeting I would have to file another FoI request and wait another month for an answer. 

This is the tortuous way the system works, dragging things out interminably.

Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity 

On 16 January 2023 Southlake reviewed the “Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity” at a “Southlake Site Selection” meeting. We don’t yet know who participated nor what was decided. But common sense suggests the Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity is likely to refer to the lands owned by Rice and Dunlap. 

And if the hospital development was planned to straddle the Rice and Dunlap lands (as I have long believed to be the case) it is inconceivable the two men didn’t discuss the implications.  

Declined Release in Full

The answer lies in Southlake’s “Capital Projects” records where key files on “site sketches” and “drawings” are being withheld. These would show the location of possible sites for the new Southlake.

Indeed, Southlake’s Vice President of Capital and Facilities, John Marshman, emailed the Rice Group’s Jordan Holt on 11 January 2023 mentioning a "fit test" as well as the location of the hospital. (Click "Read more" below).

On 30 January 2023 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.”

In architecture and planning, these “block plans” show how a proposed development relates to its surrounding environment.

We need to see these plans.

Now that the Ford Government has specifically ruled out any development in Ontario’s protected Greenbelt - including a new hospital at Bathurst - it is long past time for Southlake to open up its closed files and let the daylight in.

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From Southlake's Directory of Records: