The Mayor of Aurora Tom Mrakas believes in “leadership that gets things done”. Except, I suppose, when it comes to providing shelter for homeless men.

On Thursday, at York Region’s Committee of the Whole, (7 March 2024) Mayor Mrakas will give his colleagues notice that he intends to bring forward a motion to a future Council meeting which proposes sheltering the homeless in underused York Region buildings, including its HQ:

WHEREAS York Region has recently adopted a true hybrid work policy where 60% of the staff will work only 50% of their work week on site;

WHEREAS Regional office buildings, including the 422,000 square foot Regional Head Office on Yonge Street will now, as a consequence, have sizeable areas of under and unused taxpayer funded office space available for other purposes;

Regional Staff be directed to undertake a review of all Regionally-owned buildings for the purposes of identifying those that are under and/or unused and provide an analysis of those that can be potentially repurposed for other regional priorities including supportive housing.


We shall see in due course if Tom is the leader that gets things done or if this is just a cack-handed and crude attempt to deflect the justified criticism he has been getting for the way he handled York Region’s application for the shelter at 14452 Yonge Street.

Newmarket Today has been tracking the story along with its readers. One. Two. Three and Four. 

Mrakas posted this on 14 February 2024 implying he asked York Region a year earlier to identify other potentially suitable alternative sites. However, the record shows he said nothing about this search for alternative sites at the meeting on 24 January 2023.

“A year ago, when this application was originally presented, instead of denying the application outright, this Council gave the applicant more time to conduct a site selection process – establish siting criteria, scan for potentially suitable properties, assign a score for each based on those criteria and provide the completed site selection matrix to this Council. Take the time to provide facts to support the applicants stated belief this is the BEST location for the proposed development and thus warrants the zoning amendments requested or to take the time to find a more appropriate site  in Aurora, one that aligns with the intent of our OP.

Unfortunately, that did not occur and we are left to consider, a year later, the same application with little additional facts to support the requested zoning amendments.”

Alternative sites

So, the question for me is whether, at any stage, he asked York Region to look for alternative sites or whether this is just a convenient ex post facto excuse for his inaction in the year between Aurora’s two Public Planning meetings that considered the Region’s application for a shelter.

So, eager to establish the truth of the matter, I file a Freedom of Information request with York Region. I am asking for sight of:

1.     ‘Records which indicate any requests made to York Region by Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas, or any Town of Aurora staff requesting York Region to:

a)     Scan for and/or identify possible alternative sites for the proposed transitional housing / emergency shelter for men at 14452 Yonge Street,

b)     Create a site selection matrix ranking each potentially suitable property with a score.

2.     Records of York Region’s response to these requests.’

Timeframe: January 24, 2023, to February 13, 2024.  

I hope to get an answer by the time Tom brings forward his motion to Council.

Leaders who get things done don’t sit on their hands for a year and blame others when nothing happens.

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Note: York Regional Council went into closed session in May 2023 and debated the Men’s Emergency and Transitional Housing issue for just over an hour. They decided for their own reasons not to support any action before the Ontario Land Tribunal on the Region’s Zoning By Law Amendment application for the proposed men’s emergency and transitional housing at 14452 Yonge Street in Aurora.

Update on 5 March 2024: From Newmarket Today: Aurora Streamling Planning Tools to expand Housing Options: Mayor

Update on 7 March 2024: From the Era: After rejecting man's shelter, Aurora Mayor wants to explore sheltering homeless in York Region's HQ

On 1 November 2022 the developer Michael Rice offered land in the protected Greenbelt to Southlake for its proposed new acute hospital.  

Neither Southlake Regional Health Centre nor King Township admit to having any records of that consequential meeting at King Municipal Centre.

Hospitals (and municipalities) have a duty in law to keep records.

We have some graphics from Rice’s presentation but nothing else. 

No need to take notes

Southlake’s former Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, who was there with the hospital’s Director of Capital and Facilities, John Marshman (photo below right), said it was just an initial meeting and there was no need to take notes.

But, without records, how was this multi-million dollar gift of land reported to Southlake’s Board and, specifically, to its Land Acquisition Sub Committee which had been charged with the task of identifying possible sites?

That is - or should I say was - the enduring mystery.  

Word of Mouth

I asked Southlake - via Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner - how this incredibly generous gift of land was reported to the Board. I am told it was by word of mouth.

The Land Acquisition Sub Committee met for the first time on 5 December 2022. The co-chair, John Marshman, reported from memory on what had happened at the meeting over a month earlier. 

He spoke to “known opportunities” (Agenda item 8) but there is no supporting documentation. Southlake tells me that none of the many redactions in the agenda and in the accompanying slide presentation contain any records from the 1 November 2022 meeting – neither maps, plans, graphics nor anything else.

Known Opportunities

All we have are the partially redacted minutes from the 5 December 2022 meeting which (at point 8) refer to “Known Opportunities”.

• The Co-Chair discussed the known opportunity to build a new Southlake in King Township following proposed amendments by the Ontario government to the Greenbelt.

• It was noted that the municipality has provided a preliminary endorsement of the site to build a new hospital.

And that’s it. 

Which rather begs the question: What were these known opportunities? And how did the Land Acquisition Sub Committee get to know about them? 

Did the known opportunities include the offer of land from former Southlake Board Member and land agent John Dunlap? What happened to that?

Michael Rice and the Long Term Care facility 

Michael Rice refused to meet Ontario’s Auditor General as part of her investigation into the Greenbelt scandal but he chose to meet the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake.

In paragraph 289 of his report, the Integrity Commissioner tells us:

“With respect to the King Township site, Mr Rice and his employee (Mr McGovern) 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.”

Was any of this – the ancillary medical buildings and long-term care facility - discussed at the 1 November 2022 meeting? Without records we have no way of knowing.

But if Rice didn’t mention it, why not?

And if he did mention it, shouldn’t that have been reported to the Southlake Board?

We know Southlake held a meeting on 16 January 2023 to review the “Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity”. (See graphic below)

The first item on the agenda at item 1(a) refers to the size of the building and the quantity of parking required and at 1(b) the LTC fit. 

What does LTC mean in this context if it is not a reference to Long Term Care?

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See also: Timeline




















































 Photo above: 3pm on 22 October 2023 BBQ at Riverwalk Commons - half way through the event

Dawn's Second Annual "Free" Community BBQ

Newmarket-Aurora Progressive Conservative MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, billed taxpayers $9,376.75 for her “second annual free community BBQ” held at the Riverwalk Commons in Newmarket last October. 

Her first "free" BBQ in 2022 cost the taxpayers $11,160. This was almost one quarter of her entire annual budget for “office operations”.

Last October when I quizzed her about the use of taxpayers' money to fund her BBQ she told me it was an absolutely appropriate use of public money.

Thin on the Ground

There was a dispute last year about how many people showed up to the BBQ.

Newmarket Today originally estimated 200 people but this correction appeared in an update on 23 October 2023:

Editor's Note, Oct. 23, 2023: This article was altered to update the attendance figure from 200 to 400 based on information provided by Dawn Gallagher Murphy's constituency office. 

Gallagher Murphy claimed 400+ compared with 500 the year before. I spent an hour there just chatting to folk and it was perfectly obvious people were thin on the ground.

Public Subsidy of $23 per person

Even on Gallagher Murphy’s own figures each person attending the “free” BBQ was getting a public subsidy of around $23.

Personally, I think most people would choke on their hot dog if they realised taxpayers were paying for their "free" meal.

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It's not just Dawn Gallagher Murphy who is treating constituents. Though she started the trend. This is how the Progressive Conservative MPP, Deepak Anand, does it in Mississagua. His thanksgiving celebration cost the taxpayers an eye-watering $16,950.

Update on 15 March 2024 from Newmarket Today

Below: Gallagher Murphy's claim for hospitality expenses. (See also: some mistake?



Is Dawn Gallagher Murphy MPP happy or sad that Ontario’s Court of Appeal has struck down Bill 124 as unconstitutional?

I only ask because Dawn is a Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health and I suppose she must have a view.

Looking out for the nurses is part of her job description. It's her day job.

Wage Suppression

The Ontario Nurses Association says Bill 124 was "wage suppression legislation" that limited nurses’ pay rises to 1% for three years.

Dawn is everywhere on social media, opening things, shaking hands, congratulating people, awarding certificates and giving the official PC line on the issues of the day. Always with a smile. But I don't see anything about nurses' pay and how it has been held down by the Ford Government.

In retrospect - and with the benefit of the Appeal Court's ruling - does she think holding nurses' wages down was a good or a bad thing to do? 

I think we should be told. 


In late 2022 an Ontario court found Bill 124 unconstitutional. The Ford government appealed.

The Ontario Nurses Association described the Bill as

wage-suppression legislation negatively impacting registered nurses, nurse practitioners, health-care professionals and other public-sector workers. This bill limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for each of three years.”

Violating Charter Rights

Ontario’s Court of Appeal agreed. On 12 February 2024 the Court held that the Bill violated the constitutional rights of unionized employees to meaningful collective bargaining as guaranteed by s2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Here is the ONA’s take on the Court’s decision.

Dawn was of course personally selected by Doug Ford to be the PC candidate for Newmarket-Aurora within 24 hours of Christine Elliott announcing her retirement from elective politics. 

She owes him one.

Dawn would walk over broken glass for Ford. 

Even at the expense of the nurses.

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See also from TVO on 28 February 2024: Bill 124 is no more. Good riddance to bad legislation

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: